R My Name Is Rachel - Patricia Reilly Giff

Rachel, Cassie, and Joey live in the city with their Pop, until Pop's search for work lands the family on a run down farm. Dreamy Rachel loves to read, and doesn't know much about the country. Times are hard there, too—the school and library are closed.  When Pop gets work near Canada, he has to leave the children on the farm alone. For two months! But Rachel's the oldest, and she'll make sure they're all right. Somehow.

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Rachel's family is struggling to survive the Great Depression. Her mother deceased, Rachel lives with her father, brother, and sister in the city, but the cost of things is getting to be too much of a struggle. Her father hears of a possible job offer at a bank in the country, so the family packs up their meager belongings and takes up residence in a run-down farmhouse. Unfortunately that also means leaving behind good family friend Miss Mitzi, who runs a flower shop in the city, a woman who has served as a kind of surrogate mother to Rachel since her biological mother's death. 

 

The transition from urban to rural life is tough on the kids, even more so when Rachel is left to look after her siblings when that bank job offer falls through and their father has to set out to find work even farther away. With no other adults regularly around, the children find themselves having to be resourceful in finding means to feed and care for themselves. Rachel's sister, Cassie, grows into a bit of an infuriatingly selfish princess (but does have growth in a more positive direction later on). As a way to vent, Rachel writes to Miss Mitzi of all the things giving her anxiety. 

 

"Sometimes when I remember happy things, it makes me sad." 

~ Rachel

 

As another form of escapism from daily stress, Rachel also enjoys reading and learning as much as she can, but with the Great Depression came the closure of most schools and libraries (not enough money to go around to pay for salaries). The one book Rachel has to make due with is a copy of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, a going-away gift from a former teacher. She means to space out the reading of it, only intending to read 3 pages a day to make the story last, but thanks to a snowstorm Rachel burns through 53 pages in the first day! All of us bookworms have been there!

 

... it's so late and I need to sleep. Almost dreaming, I remember that old self of mine, writing letters, reading...

 

"She's not gone," I whisper, "not gone...."

 

Just as in Winter Sky, Giff writes of a girl struggling to grow up without a mother. Also like Winter Sky, our main character finds herself caring for a stray animal who naturally becomes the family pet. The story here is stronger, more compelling than Winter Sky. While this novel may be historical fiction, the themes are universal... the struggles of life situations unfortunately forcing you to grow up quick, the complicated beauty of family bonds, those important, moving times --- even in a family that chronically argues --- where differences are set aside and you come together for the good of the whole group rather than the individual. The bookish aspects of Rachel's personality are an extra fun element that keeps the story moving along nicely and instantly warms you to her.