Bo at Ballard Creek, by Kirkpatrick Hill, illustrations by LeUyen Pham
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co., 2013
Middle Grade historical fiction
Source: Library. I just plucked this one off the new book shelf, first because it looked like historical fiction (my favorite), and then on reading the blurb I thought it might fit in with the orphan theme I've been looking at.
Brief Summary: This turned out not to actually be an orphan story. Yes, Bo is an orphan (abandoned as a baby by her mother). But she is promptly taken up by a pair of miners, Jack and Arvid, who become her Papas (she names them both Papa, which should be confusing but isn't), who are en route to the mine at Ballard Creek, Alaska, in about 1930. So she's not an orphan--she has a pair of loving parents, not to mention the whole community at Ballard Creek who help raise her. The book is the account of their last year at Ballard Creek, when Bo is about 5.
Review: This book made me think of Little House in the Big Woods, both because it does something everyone will say you can't do nowadays: it's a middle-grade (say, ages 8-10) book with a much younger protagonist. It's also more a series of sketches of life at Ballard Creek than it is a novel. Through most of the book, not much really happens, though a single story (of a little boy who is found near the town and taken in by them all) develops through the final chapters.
So, by all the rules, this book shouldn't work at all. And I admit I kept waiting for something to happen, holding my breath for the disaster that was surely going to strike and destroy their happy life. But that's not the sort of book this is. It's a soothing, pleasant account of life in a time and place that's mostly gone now. I think there are two main points to the story: first, that a family looks like whatever works for you. This isn't a veiled depiction of a gay couple; the miners all partner up to keep safe and sane, and there's not a whiff of sexuality anywhere in the book. It's just saying that they're a family because they act like a family. The second point, brought home at the end of the book and made explicit, is that nothing escapes change.
Using a very young protagonist allowed the author to look at everything in town with fresh, interested eyes. Bo doesn't go to school, so she's not reading about the outside world, and all she knows is Ballard Creek. That allows for a feeling as you read of being totally in that place, at that moment--as small children usually are.
As you can tell, I enjoyed this story a lot. I'm not sure how to rate it, as some readers will feel there needs to be more action, more plot. For them, it's probably about a 3. But for those who like to just immerse themselves in a time and place, and let life roll by. . . it's a 5.
Full Disclosure: I checked out this copy of Bo at Ballard Creek from my library and received nothing whatsoever from the author or
publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed in
this review are my own and no one else's.
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