Ellie is a 12-year-old girl whose life changes dramatically as a result of the Great Depression. Her dad, a tailor, and mom, a teacher, manage to hang onto normal city life for a while, but eventually lose the proverbial shirts on their backs. The dad scrounges together what resources he can, purchases mountain property, and takes his family into the wild, as it were, to build a cabin home and learn to be self-sufficient. Life is hard for Ellie, her parents, and an older sister and younger brother, but they somehow make it work until a tree falls onto the dad, plunging him into a lengthy coma. Ellie’s mom must then fend for the family on her own, relying on the children to do whatever they can to help. You can imagine the family dynamic is under serious strain, with Ellie being held accountable for the accident which hurt her father.
Ellie takes to the outdoors naturally and daily increases her knowledge of the environment and how to move within it in ways that help her family and soothe her spirit. She hunts, she fishes, she learns how to use plants for food and medicinal purposes, and overall she becomes one with her surroundings. She tries different ways to wake up her dad from his long sleep (including throwing a big snake into his bed). She gradually comes to know some interesting characters who live in the area who turn out to have surprising connections to her family. She comes to know herself better, she forms meaningful relationships with others who appreciate her and whom she can help in significant ways, and she eventually repairs frayed relations with her mother and sister.
The author spins some compelling mystery threads into the story, and resolves them in a satisfactory way by the end of the book. Most characters are realistically presented. There are good people, bad people, selfish people, unselfish people, noble people, crazy people, hard workers and lazy ones. Ellie learns to size up each pretty well and interact with them appropriately.
There is no bad language or ugliness in this book, aside from the beating one character takes from a disturbed parent (not described in detail, only evidenced afterward by bruises and injuries). Some scenes of illness and practical medical treatment may be repulsive to some readers.
This is a suitable book for any library.