In 1932, the same year Lizzie Hawkins turns 12, the Great Depression has hunkered down in Bittersweet, Alabama. No longer able to provide for his family or cover the mounting mortgage payments, Lizzie’s father disappeared and has yet to return, while her mother has become depressed, withdrawn and even mute. In Laura Golden’s tender debut novel, inspired by her grandparents’ experiences during the same time period, it’s up to Lizzie to run the family home, take care of her mother and avoid suspicion—or end up in an orphanage.

Golden shows the blessings of community and the burdens of gossip in a small town as the girl manages at first to keep her family secrets private. The ruse becomes difficult when best friend Ben, who also recently lost his father, makes Lizzie see that she’s not the only one facing tragedy. And jealous Erin, a bully reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Nellie Oleson, has her heart set on ruining Lizzie. Ever determined, Lizzie learns not only to accept life’s lemons, but also make lemonade with them—something her father espoused but never practiced.

From her desire to catch the local legendary one-eyed catfish to her love of Goo Goo Clusters, Lizzie’s stubborn yet resourceful spirit shines through in Golden’s splendid Southern storytelling. Perhaps guided by her mother’s favorite proverbs, which also serve as chapter headings, the girl comes up with an ingenious plan that may keep what’s left of her family together and help her fellow down-and-out townsfolk in the process. Readers will adore Lizzie’s tale, which certainly lives up to her town’s name.

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