Monday, December 10, 2007

Pg. 99: Margaret McMullan's "When I Crossed No-Bob"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullan.

About the book, from the author's website:
Life as an O'Donnell is all twelve-year-old Addy knows, and life as an O'Donnell means trouble. Tucked away in a gray patch of woods called No-Bob, the O'Donnell clan has nothing but a bad reputation. So when Addy's mama abandons her on the afternoon of Mr. Frank Russell's wedding celebration, nobody is very surprised.

A reluctant Mr. Frank and his new wife take Addy in, and Addy does everything she can to prove that at least one O'Donnell has promise. But one day, Addy witnesses a terrible event that brings her old world crashing into the new. As she finds herself being pulled back into No-Bob and the grips of her O'Donnell kin, Addy is faced with the biggest decision of her life. Can she somehow find the courage to do what's right, even if it means betraying one of her own?

Among the praise for When I Crossed No-Bob:

"It's 1875 and the wounds from the Civil War are still raw for the poor and struggling folks of Mississippi. The houses have been razed, the trees burned for fuel, and the men are injured, maimed and mired in sadness. Times are tough and life is full of danger from ruffians and vigilantes. The slaves have been freed, but they are just as tied to white landowners as they ever were. Across the swamp is a wooded no-man's- land called No-Bob, populated by the O'Donnells, a family known for their cruelty, bloodthirstiness and constant unpleasant presence, usually begging for money and food. They marry young, bear children and marry them off to each other. Addy's father is the meanest and fiercest of all the O'Donnells and when he leaves his wife and heads for Texas, his bereft wife abandons her daughter to follow him. This leaves Addy in the care of newlyweds Frank and Irene, the schoolmaster and his wife. Addy's extremely rough up-bringing has prepared her well -- she knows how to build a fire, keep a house, build a shed and keep herself alive on next to no food. When her father resurfaces, stealing eggs from Frank's chicken coop, Addy must return to No-Bob with him. "Pappy. He is bad and mean and dangerous, but he is still my Pappy," she says. When Addy discovers a devastating secret about her father and his connection to the violence that is running rampant in the area, she makes the hardest decision of her life. In this sequel to her Civil War novel, How I Found the Strong, Margaret McMullan has created a deeply philosophical, first-person account of life in the Reconstruction era that is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. Echoes of the present are impossible to miss -- life under occupation, the reaction of the insurgent Klan, and aching poverty. It's the kind of book I love, one that makes me want to read everything McMullan has written. Twice."
--Robin Smith, BookPage

"Twelve-year-old Addy O'Donnell is a survivor. Growing up in the wild, lawless land nicknamed No-Bob, abandoned first by her father and now by her mother, she is taken in by Frank and Irene Russell, raised and educated. This sequel to the Civil War novel How I Found the Strong (2004) takes the story to 1875 in Smith County, Miss. McMullan again proves herself to be a superb prose stylist, creating a haunting portrait of a place and people ravaged by war: the burned-out land, Confederate war veterans, former slaves facing the menace of the Ku Klux Klan and the forced removal of the Choctaw from their land. If there's any reconstruction going on here, it's in Addy's soul, as she, like many people, is learning to be free-of her abusive father, her impoverished past and her stunted expectations for her life. A good match with other recent Civil War-era novels. such as Rosemary Wells's Red Moon at Sharpsburg (2007) and Christopher Paul Curtis's Elijah of Buxton (2007). (Fiction. 10-14)"
--Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Set in Mississippi after the Civil War, this gripping historical novel tells of the bitter struggle among poor whites and the horrifying rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Twelve-year-old Addy O'Donnell, hungry, needy, and mischievous, relates the story in a spare present-tense narrative. Abandoned by her parents, she finds a home with her newly married teacher, Frank Russell, whose story was told in How I Found the Strong (2004). At times there is too much history and message woven into the story. The hate drama is compelling, though, and it becomes very personal when Addy witnesses a child murdered during the burning of a black school and discovers that her own father is the perpetrator. The simple prose can be pure poetry: "They are one of us. They are who we are... He is my poppy. He is who I am." Readers will be drawn by the history close-up and by the elemental moral choice: doing good is hard, "doing nothing is the easiest of all." Connect this with stories of Holocaust perpetrators."
--Rachel Rochman, Booklist

Read an excerpt from When I Crossed No-Bob, and learn more about the author and her books at Margaret McMullan's website.

Margaret McMullan's other novels include How I Found the Strong (2004), In My Mother's House (2003), and When Warhol Was Still Alive.

The Page 99 Test: When I Crossed No-Bob.

--Marshal Zeringue