Clare Vanderpool
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
October 12, 2010

The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby. I closed my eyes to the dusty countryside and imagined the sign I’d seen only in Gideon’s stories: Manifest—A Town with a rich past and a bright future.
Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.

Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.”

Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.
Powerful in its simplicity and rich in historical detail, Clare Vanderpool’s debut is a gripping story of loss and redemption.

Abilene Tucker is a Depression-era child who has been riding the rails with her father--until she hurts her leg as it dangles off the side of a boxcar. Her father sends her to the town of Manifest, Kansas, for safekeeping, and while she's there she meets a wonderful cast of characters. The story switches back and forth between 1918 and 1936, two very interesting times in American history.

Abilene and her new friends try to solve some small town mysteries through spying on people, talking to them, and scouring old 1918 copies of the Manifest Herald. Along the way, Abilene gains a profound new respect for her father and his friends, and she even helps some of the older people in the town to recover from their great losses of the past.

This book won the Newbery in 2011, and I think it's a fantastic book for teaching literature to children. It contains all kinds of literary devices (symbolism, metaphors, allusions, foreshadowing), and it also introduces young readers to some fascinating history: the Spanish flu, the Great Depression, World War I, orphan trains. Seen through the eyes of a child, these world events still retain their tragedy, but you realize that life goes on. Even in the midst of war and economic disaster, there are still tree houses to repair and adults to spy on. And if you're kind and helpful, there are always people to love who will love you right back.

Because I think this is such a wonderful novel for teaching literature, I'm working on a Tolman Hall lit guide for it. It will be available in early October.


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