Coco De Young's A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt combines the everyday details of one girl's childhood with the Great Depression an era that young adults may have studied in history books but rarely would have encountered so directly. Set in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the novel follows the life of 11-year-old Margo Bandini and her Italian immigrant family as the Depression works its way right up to the Bandini doorstep.
Margo feels helpless when she learns that, because of a bad debt brought on by medical treatment her younger brother received for a leg infection, the bank is threatening to take her family's home away. Then her teacher, Miss Dobson, instructs her class to write a letter to someone they feel has done heroic work large or small to help people during this difficult period.
In the depths of her own personal depression, Margo finds a newspaper article about Eleanor Roosevelt, written by a journalist Margo admires. The article says that Mrs. Roosevelt has received hundreds of letters requesting help. She intends to have each one answered. These words inspire Margo; she has at last found someone who was willing to listen to an American girl . . . to an eleven-year-old . . . Along with her letter to the First Lady, Margo encloses her father's Victory Medal from World War I a symbol of her family's devotion to America and waits. The reply she finally receives is more wonderful and complicated than anything she, or the reader, could have guessed.
In her Author's Note at the end of the novel, De Young tells the reader that while fiction, the heart of the story is true ; her father's family, also living in Johnstown, wrote a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt asking for help during the Depression. Like Margo and her family, they too received much-needed financial blessings from the First Family.
The heart of this story is true in even larger ways, however: it speaks to the need for love and connectedness that all families and young adults at times face. And it speaks to the hope that sometimes a call for help will receive a compassionate reply.
(Ages 10 and up) Vivian Wagner is a freelance writer in New Concord, Ohio.