Laurinda’s Rating: 2.5/5
The 1957 Newbery Medal Winner, Miracles on Maple Hill, is the story of a family that moves from Pittsburgh to the country. It’s set shortly after the end of World War II; the father was a POW and the move to the country is primarily to help him recover. Marly and Joe, the children, are the main characters, with the book focusing mainly on Marly. She is an optimist, who sees the change of the seasons as a miracle. She is also ridiculously kind-hearted and throws a fit whenever anyone tries to harm even the mice infesting a dresser drawer. The narrative, what there is of it, relates the family’s transition to the country, with an emphasis on Marly’s exploration of nature.
The Good/Interesting: PTSD and the transition from military to civilian life is a major thread of the book, one that the author portrays with a fair degree of sensitivity. Marly’s father is snappish and irritable at the beginning of the novel. He even struck his son in one scene. The entire family walks on eggshells around him. As the story progresses, the father begins to take joy in his life; he heals his relationship with his family and himself. Harry the Hermit was a WWI vet who went on walkabout because of his experiences, eventually settling on Maple Hill and, with the help of Mr. Chris, establishing a self-sufficient homestead.
The Bad: The plot. The narrator. The language use. The plot was thin and episodic, with the Chris family (neighbours to Marly) providing the only continuity. Much of it was just an almanac of when specific flowers bloomed, etc etc. The main narrator, Marly, was a bit annoying. One passage in the book summed it up perfectly: Marly hated hunting season and seeing the poor dead birds, until she got to the dinner table, whereupon she ate and ate. She’s naive, well-meaning but stupid. She terms everything a “miracle”, including the beginning of spring. Sorry, unless you lived under the White Witch in Narnia, seasons happen, no miracle required. Because Marly is young and the story is from her perspective, the language use is very simplistic.
Skip this book, unless you are a devoted naturalist located in Pennsylvania or you want to know how to make your own maple syrup.