Garnet Linden's Thimble Summer begins in the throes of a summer drought. Then she finds a silver thimble while swimming with her older brother Jay, and things quickly begin to change. Rain comes, enough money for a new barn comes, and a new boy named Eric comes, all of them proof (at least to Garnet) that the little thimble is magic and a bearer of good things.
This little novel is an idyll of rural American childhood. Elizabeth Enright's Linden family lives on a farm (presumably somewhere in the midwest), goes to town rarely, and attends the local fair to eat food, ride the Ferris wheel, and show livestock. Nine-year-old Garnet runs away from home, gets locked in a library all night with her friend Citronella, does chores, and runs away from home.
Instead of a single, uninterrupted story, Enright chronicles Garnet's summer episodically, loosely linking each story to the next but not following one narrative plotline. The often-mentioned story of Timmy the pig, a runt that Garnet raises to New Conniston Fair blue ribbon-winning girth, is just one among many such episodes.
One of the most central stories occurs in the chapter named "The Stranger." A half-starved boy stumbles into a makeshift camp where Garnet, Jay, their father, and family friend Mr. Freebody are resting from working the lime kiln where Mr. Linden is making lime to be used in mixing cement.
The boy is named Eric Swanstrom, an orphan of Swedish parentage who's traveled the United States working and surviving for a whole year all by himself. The 13-year-old is soon adopted by the Lindens, and his wide work knowledge soon make him a favorite of Jay, Mr. Linden, and Garnet. Jay respects Eric's life of adventure, but Garnet likes him for his kindness and pluck.
As Eric becomes integral in the life of the farm and the Lindens, a rift begins to form between Jay and Garnet, who previously were best friends. Jay is glad to have a boy his age around, and he begins to exclude Garnet from the boys's daily activities. Eventually these issues are resolved, but at one point Garnet becomes so frustrated that she runs away, all 18 miles to Conniston.
Enright is a very good writer, though the dialogue is a bit unrealistic. Which isn't the only thing that's unrealistic: Thimble Summer frequently gives the impression, not of presenting childhood as it is, but childhood as one wishes it to have been. The Lindens seem to live charmed lives, to get out of predicaments with ease, and to generally have a good time.
Which, to be fair, is explained by the presence of the silver thimble. But for such an important plot element, the thimble is barely even mentioned. If it wasn't the name of the book, most readers would probably forget about the thimble entirely, and wonder why Enright brings it up again in the final chapter.
There are some good family values in Thimble Summer, interesting characters, mildly humorous events, and lots of nostalgia. The author also illustrates, and the black and white drawings are timeless and fairy tale-esque. But there's no particular point to it all, no real narrative thread to hold onto, and ultimately no significant reason to read this 1939 Newbery Medal winner.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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