The book can summarized in the first brilliant paragraph: “So it comes to this, I remember thinking on Wednesday, June 7, 1871. The date sticks in my mind because it was the day of my sister’s first funeral and I knew it wasn’t her last—which is why I left. That’s the long and short of it” (1). Thirteen-year-old Georgie Burkhardt’s sister Abigail runs away and a body, too destroyed to be actually recognized, is later found wearing Abigail’s dress. Georgie sets off to find out what happened, because she doesn't believe her beloved big sister has died. Abigail’s former boyfriend Billy accompanies Georgie on her determined journey, which ends up being quite an adventure. While some sadness does occur, it does not leave you weeping in your pillow.
Amy Timberlake does an amazing job with Georgie’s voice. Set in 1871 in Wisconsin, the book is centered around the largest recorded nesting of passenger pigeons. The meticulous research of the author is evident in the way the pigeons, now extinct, come to life on the page. Abigail is a mysterious figure in many ways, as we can tell that Georgie obviously idolized her and didn’t fully understand her need for an education. Georgie’s narration is as sharp as her shooting and honestly reflects that cusp young adulthood when first crushes can be so very crushing and people are determining who they will really be in life.
The plot moves quickly and smoothly. Several times, the lines just jumped out and demanded to be reread and savored. Someone else had dog-eared the same section that caught my eye. It made me smile (though I shouldn't smile at anyone bending pages in library books—there’s probably a special punishment for librarians who aren’t horrified by that) to think that I was sharing the same enjoyment of these words with some unknown person who had checked this book out before me. It captures the entire problem of the book perfectly.
But let me describe my particular state: I saw the two of you kiss. I told Mr. Olmstead. Mr. Olmstead threw over Agatha. THEN Agatha ran off. There’s a direct correlation between my telling and Agatha’s leaving. If my sister is dead, I bear responsibility. If you think I’m going to accept a piecemeal body as evidence of my sister’s death, you do not know me at all (36).
The reader will get to know Georgie quite well and, if you are like me, you’ll enjoy her company even if she is stubborn and frustrating at times. She’s very believable. The ending is lovely.
School Library Journal: Gr 5-8-Thirteen-year-old Georgie Burkhardt can shoot better than anyone in Placid, Wisconsin. She can handle accounts and serve customers in her family's general store. What she can't do is accept that the unrecognizable body wearing her older sister's blue-green gown is Agatha. Determined to discover what happened after Agatha abruptly left town with a group of pigeoners, Georgie sets out to follow her route. In return for the loan of a mule, she reluctantly allows Billy McCabe, one of Agatha's suitors, to accompany her. The journey includes a menacing cougar and ruthless counterfeiters, but Georgie's narration offers more than action-packed adventure. She unravels the tangle of events that led to Agatha's sudden departure and acknowledges her own role. By turns humorous and reflective, Georgie's unique and honest voice includes confusion about her feelings for Billy and doubts about her ability to kill even in desperate circumstances. Timberlake seamlessly integrates information about two significant events that occurred in Wisconsin in 1871: the largest recorded nesting of passenger pigeons in spring and devastating firestorms in fall. Georgie's physical and emotional odyssey that occurs between those two events will linger in readers' minds.-Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State University, Mankatoα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
Booklist: “To find out what really happened to her purportedly dead sister, sharpshooting 13-year-old Georgie Burkhardt and her sister’s one-time suitor Billy McCabe follow the trail of pigeon hunters and discover far worse going on near Placid, Wisconsin, in 1871. Georgie tells her story in a first-person narrative that rings true to the time and place. She is smart, determined, and not a little blind to the machinations of adults around her, including Billy, who has been sent by Georgie’s storekeeper grandfather to follow her and keep her safe. She does notice that Billy is well made, but this is no love story; it’s a story of acceptance, by Georgie, her family, and her small town. Timberlake weaves in the largest passenger pigeon nesting ever seen in North America, drought and fatal fires along Lake Michigan that year, a currency crisis that spawned counterfeiters, and advice on prairie travel from an actual handbook from the times. Historical fiction and mystery combine to make this a compelling adventure, and an afterword helps disentangle facts from fiction. Grades 6-9. --Kathleen Isaacs --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Awards: A Newbery Honor Book, ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Book, Winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Juvenile Novel
I was really impressed by this book and it brought to mind The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Both are beautifully told historical stories, with interesting and strong middle grade female leads. One Came Home is pretty firmly upper-middle-grade, as it is a fairly intense book and deals with the possible gruesome death of a sibling.