Monday, February 20, 2012
DEAR AMERICA: LIKE THE WILLOW TREE by Lois Lowry
The Dear America series has long had a reputation for excellence. Lois Lowry’s contribution, “Like the Willow Tree,” a diary of the fictional Lydia Amelia Pierce, an orphan of the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918, lives up not only to the quality of her extensive other publications, but also the rest of the Dear America novels.
When Lydia and her brother Daniel lose both of their parents simultaneously to the Spanish influenza, their grieving uncle sends them to be raised by Shakers. Lydia learns the lifestyle of the Shakers at Sabbathday Lake, while worrying about her brother, who struggles much more acutely than she with the transition to Shaker life. Over the course of the year, Lydia grapples with difficult issues of gender separation, the loss of her personal property, and the strain of diligent work. She tries very hard to be a good Shaker, learning their songs and conforming to their ethical system, but she accurately questions the Shakers on the denial of marriage as a means of propagating the religion.
Lydia’s story and voice are a compelling read. Lowry also manages to be very informative about Shaker culture and the historical decline of the faith in American society. Young readers will both enjoy the story and gain valuable insights about an often forgotten or misunderstood faction of American history.