“Is the lucky one the one who dies or the one who’s left behind?” wonders Carolina at the funeral. At 11 years old, she’s the one left behind after her parents and baby brother are killed in a car crash, after Aunty Shen who raised her daddy goes to the hospital and can’t come home to their cabin in the Smoky Mountains.
Which is worse – being a “charity case” in the stern preacher’s house or being a runaway without a destination? Carolina rubs the catbird pendant that Daddy carved for her and listens to the real catbird singing outside the rule-filled parsonage’s window. It’s summertime, for goodness sake! She and the preacher’s twin daughters should be running around with their shoes off, playing in the sunshine instead of memorizing lessons all day. Oh, how she misses her best friend Mattie with her sparkling dark eyes and dark skin and bright smile…
So Carolina just runs, following trails over the hills. And here is Miss Ruby’s place! Surely Mattie’s grandma will let her stay until Auntie Shen is better, even if Mattie had to move away because of her daddy’s new job. During dinner, everyone talks about Martin Luther King Jr. and his speech in Washington D.C. Carolina hadn’t known that black folks suffered so much violence and prejudice in other places – in their tiny mountain community, everyone just took care of each other, no matter their color.
But here comes the sheriff again to take Carolina to another foster home in the city – too many kids in one house with a sloppy woman and her traveling husband. Never happy away from her mountains, Carolina knows from the moment she gets there that she’ll run away again.
Surely there’s some family in the Smokies that needs a strong, helpful, almost-12-year-old girl to bring joy into their lives until Auntie Shen is better? Of course the elderly lady will get well and climb the steep trail to their cabin where they carry water from a well, right?
Listen for the catbird’s song along with Carolina in 1964 as she tries to find her place in the world and heal her heart of its burdens, breathing in the beauty of her beloved Smoky Mountains.
Recommended by: Katy Manck, Librarian-at-Large (retired academic/corporate/school librarian), Gilmer, Texas, USA