What It's About: Eleven-year-old Tori and her family are struggling with the Great Depression in North Dakota, and the death of her beloved Papa has been the severest blow of all. To aspiring writer Tori, everything is changing for the worse--her friends are acting too grown-up, and her little brother Otto invades her privacy. When a Norwegian bachelor-farmer begins courting Mama, Tori writes in her journal that her life will be ruined. What will Tori discover about forgiveness and acceptance as she tries to keep her life from changing?
Tori Oleson stood frozen in the doorway of the church kitchen.
“Don't you think Selina Oleson should be looking for another husband?” Mrs. Pederson was asking.
“It's been over a year now since Torgus passed away.”
The women had their backs to her, but their words cut Tori like a knife. Mama and someone else? It wasn't going to happen. No one could take Papa's place. No one.
Why I Liked It: I have read several of Margo Sorenson's novels, and I am in awe of the variety of her subject matter. In ISLAND DANGER, she wrote an adventure with a hidden arms cache in Hawai'i and in TIME OF HONOR, she took on time travel and skulduggery in 1272. Here, in TORI AND THE SLEIGH OF MIDNIGHT BLUE, her focus is on North Dakota during the time of the Great Depression. The details of Tori's life in a Norwegian immigrant community in the Dakotas ring pitch perfect. We are introduced to such things as the Basket Social (in which baskets are made and auctioned off to earn money for the school); and the rolling out of lefse for Thanksgiving.
Tori is a very well-drawn character. She is dealing with all the issues of a 12-year-old, such as how to fit in with her suddenly boy-crazy friends, and how to deal with an annoying younger brother. She also has, at the core, an immense sadness about the loss of her father to pneumonia--and she definitely does not want anyone--even the good-natured Bjorn Oppestadt, who appears to be courting her mother--to take her beloved Papa's place.
The one thing she has left of her Papa is the miniature wooden sleigh of midnight blue. Unfortunately, her brother, Otto, takes it from her room without asking, and it gets smashed in the barn. Yet a wonderful thing happens (no spoilers, here!), and Tori comes to a realization--as she recites the poem she wrote for her mother in front of the school--about the true nature of love and redemption.
A beautifully written, very touching book!
I asked Margo my usual Mafioso questions. This is what she had to say--
1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
Katherine Paterson, Anna Staniszewski, Jerry Spinelli, Carl Hiaasen
2) What's on your nightstand now?
Donna Leon's QUIETLY IN THEIR SLEEP -- definitely not middle grade!
3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it
My favorite scene is at the end when Tori and her step-father-to-be have a special conversation, and I can't say more without creating a spoiler alert! (I agree--that was a beautifully rendered scene.)
4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at...
thinking of all kinds of story ideas that I'd rather be fiddling with than doing mundane tasks like laundry!
5) My favorite breakfast is...
biscuits and gravy...and gravy on the side, so I can butter the biscuits.
6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
Actually, my favorite place to visit is la bella Italia! The people, the food, the wine, the history all combine to make it a special and magical place. (The Don is thrilled to hear this, Margo. In fact, his exact words were "Grazie mille a Margo per la sua gentilezza!" At this rate he's going to send his private jet to fly you to his homeland!)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Author of twenty-eight books, Margo Sorenson was born in Washington, DC, and spent the first seven years of her life in Spain and Italy. After teaching high school and middle school and raising a family of two daughters, Margo is now a full-time writer. A National Milken Educator Award recipient, Margo always has a good time meeting with her readers in school and library settings from Minnesota to California and Hawaii.
Margo and her husband now live full-time in California. When she isn't writing, she enjoys visiting her grandchildren, playing golf, reading, watching sports, traveling, and hearing from her readers. You can visit her website here, or follow her on Twitter @ipapaverison. (Her new picture book is coming out in the Fall, and is called SPAGHETTI SMILES. The Don's ordering copies for the whole compound.)
Thanks for reading, everyone, and have a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday! Ciao!!