Sunday, October 16, 2011

Like the Willow Tree

Like the Willow Tree: The Diary of Lydia Amelia Pierce, Portland, Maine, 1918 by Lois Lowry (2011)(audio)

Lydia and her brother Daniel live a regular life with their parents and new baby sister, Lucy. But they begin hearing about a deadly disease arriving in Maine, and soon their school is closed and they have to stay inside and can't even visit their friends. Then, their parents and Lucy all become ill and in just days they are dead, leaving Lydia and Daniel alone. Their uncle comes and brings them to his house but he and his wife already have more children than they can really care for, so one day he takes Lydia and Daniel to live with the Shakers at Sabbath Day Lake.

Their new life with the Shakers is very different - they cannot keep their own possessions and Lydia has to give up her copy of The Secret Garden and the ring from her grandmother which is very precious to her. All material items belong to everybody here. In addition to school, all the children must work and Lydia learns to knit, iron, and make baskets, though what she really can't wait to try is candy-making. Boys and girls live separately, for Shakers do not every marry and there is little interaction between the sexes. Also they must regularly "open their minds" to one another, which is similar to the Catholics' confessions.

Part of the Dear America series, Like the Willow Tree was a very fun slice-of-life audiobook that was perfect for my commute. It covered such a short period of time and I was really curious whether Lydia would come to embrace the Shaker life long-term or if she would return to "the world" (as the Shakers say). I was prepared to not have these questions answered - it's a children's book after all, and only meant to cover what it was like at that place and time. But to my surprise, the book included an epilogue which answered my questions. As if that weren't enough, there was additional material about the historical period as well as some performances of Shaker songs.

Although I found the narrator's voice a bit grating at the beginning, I grew used to it and came to really look forward to listening. I enjoyed this book a lot - I am always a sucker for old-timey novels - and will absolutely consider other books from this series in the future.

No comments: