1986: Sarah, Plain and Tall (looking for a home on the range)

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating 3.5/5

Patricia MacLachlan’s Sarah, Plain and Tall is essentially a character study about a mysterious woman who moves to the Midwest when she answers an advert from a man who is looking for a wife. Told through the perspective of a young child, this is a slow tale that unfolds as the family learns more about Sarah and her history.

The structure of the book is very simple. When hearing that their father’s advert for a wife is finally answered, two children begin to send letters to Sarah to learn more about her. When she eventually comes to visit them, they get to know her and try to do all they can to persuade her to stay. While the plot is not very exciting, there are some good character beats. The children act like children and the adults act like adults, but there is some character growth for all the characters.

The main question that plagues the children throughout the novel is about why Sarah would leave her seaside home to become a wife and mother to an unknown man and his family in a rural town. Sarah’s wistfulness towards her previous home comes through in all her stories to the children, but it eventually goes away with the promise of a family. By focusing explicitly on Sarah, the book is able to delve into some mature themes on loneliness, family and the definition of a home.

Sarah, Plain and Tall was a very fast read, only about sixty pages long. There’s nothing too complex in this children’s books, though centering a plot around an arranged marriage is rather interesting for a novel for this age group. Overall, it’s a sweet story about the growing bonds between a family that is both uplifting and inspirational.

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