Wednesday, November 7, 2007

How It Happened in Peach Hill by Marthe Jocelyn

I picked up this one after reading about it on a children's lit blog. Unfortunately, I don't remember which one.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable book. It reminds me of A Drowned Maiden's Hair
by Laura Amy Schlitz, but in subject matter, not writing style. While I wasn't blown away by anything in particular, I found myself wanting to pick this one up even when I wasn't on the train- always a good sign. I wasn't exactly sure what was going to happen, and the ending was satisfying. I especially like that the romance was left so open-ended. The uncertainty of that saved the ending from being too tidy.

I was about to tag this "historical fiction" because, I suppose it is, being set in the 1920s, however, almost nothing about the book conveys a particular time or place (despite the explicit mention of rural upstate New York and flapper dresses). Really, it could be in any small town in any post-industrial, pre-war era when flim-flam artists and con men could stay just one town ahead of the law.

I remember going to a conference on historical fiction once, quite a few years ago. What I retained was the difference between historical fiction, which features actual historical people such as Johnny Tremain or Little House on the Prairie, and period fiction, which is set in the past, such as Mildred Taylor's books or Long Way From Chicago. It is an interesting distinction, especially since I more often find myself annoyed by the appearance of actual people in fiction. The Royal Diaries is a good example; I hate that they have taken real people and made up diaries for them, with little or no documentation or indication of what is real and what is not. If I were to encounter Johnny Tremain now, would I feel the same way about it? I don't think so, because the historical people are secondary characters, and while I haven't read it in some time, I think it is historically substantiated. But perhaps I only think that because it's a classic and I never questioned it.

And then what do we do with Little Women and Secret Garden? They sure seem like period fiction now, but when they were written, they were contemporary. Do we need a third term? And if so, what would it be?

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