Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

R My name is Rachel

R My name is Rachel

Patricia Reilly Giff
For ages 9 to 12
Random House, 2011   ISBN: 978-0375838897

America has been in the grip of the Depression for months now, but Rachel, her father, and her friend Miss Mitzi are all hoping that President Roosevelt will soon be able to get the country back on its feet. Rachel’s family is not doing too badly considering. She still goes to a school that she loves, still has books to read, still gets to visit Miss Mitzi whenever she wants to, and the butcher still gives her food so that she can feed Clarence, the stray cat.

   Then Rachel’s father loses his job at the bank and there are no jobs to be had in the city. One day Rachel comes home and her father announces that they are going to move to the town of North Lake so that he can work at the bank there. They will live on a farm in the countryside outside of town. Pop grew up on a farm and he is confident that they will be able to grow their own food and raise some animals for milk, eggs, and meat.

   Rachel can bear to give up her friends, her school, and the library, but leaving Miss Mitzi behind - her dearest friend who owns the florist shop nearby - is almost more than she can bear, and yet bear it she must. Rachel knows that Pop love Miss Mitzi and that Miss Mitzi loves him, but Pop does not feel that he can ask her to go with his family to a farm in the middle of nowhere. He feels that he has nothing to offer her.

   When they get to the farm, Rachel, her siblings and Pop find out that it is pretty primitive. There is no electricity, no water indoors, no indoor toilet and there are holes in the roof. Soon after they arrive it starts snowing and the weather is so severe that Pop cannot get into town to try to get the job at the bank. When he does make it to town the job has already been taken and he has to settle for working at a local grocery store. He gets paid in food, but the food is poor in quality and little in quantity. He has to find work that will pay the rent and so he takes a New Deal job building a road many miles away. He is going to be gone for months and the children are going to have to manage on their own. Twelve-year-old Rachel is terrified, as is Carrie and Joey who are younger than Rachel, but they put a brave face on things and send their father off trying to be as cheerful as they can.

   Life is pretty dire, and it is not helped by the fact that Rachel and Cassie rub each other the wrong way. Sweet Joey is always hopeful and hard-working, and he does his best to keep the peace. He tries to find food, tries to cheer up Carrie who loses hope that Pop is coming home, and tries to convince Rachel that she knows what she is doing.

   In this extraordinary novel Rachel’s voice seems to spring off the pages in her narrative and in the letters she writes to her dear Miss Mitzi. These days we would never consider leaving three children under the age of thirteen alone on an isolated farm for months on end, but Pop has no choice, and his children have to manage somehow. They make many mistakes, but they also learn a great deal about themselves.