Acclaimed author Lois Lowry contributes the second new volume to the recently relaunched Dear America series of diary-style historical fiction with Like the Willow Tree: The Diary of Lydia Amelia Pierce, Portland, Maine, 1918.
The story opens on Friday, October 4, 1918. Lydia Amelia Pierce is turning 11, but along with her birthday the Spanish influenza has arrived in Portland, Maine. Schools and churches have been closed, public gatherings are forbidden, and Lydia and her older brother Daniel must stay at home.
Mr. Pierce thinks Mayor Clarke is a fool for shutting down the town, but 12 days later, Lydia’s father, mother and baby sister Lucy are dead, and she and Daniel find themselves at Uncle Henry’s farm. But Uncle Henry has a house full of children and not enough food or room for two more, so he takes them to Sabbathday Lake, a Shaker community with the spiritual name Chosen Land.
Lydia and Daniel have left the world, as the Shakers call the outside world, and have come to a place where everyone lives according to the Shaker saying, “Hands to work and hearts to God.” Boys and girls lead separate lives, living quarters are clean and orderly, but austere, and girls do not ornament themselves, so Lydia must give up her grandmother’s ring, her mother’s birthday gift to her. It’s not a way of life Lydia knew about or would have chosen, but gradually, as she learns the work of the community and finds friends among the sisters, she realizes she has found a good place in the world.
Fans of Lowry’s The Giver, Gathering Blue and Messenger know she is an expert at creating worlds. Jonas’ world in The Giver was dystopian, a world so controlled that people had a non-life but didn’t realize it. He escapes toward life Elsewhere, in the outside world, hoping to save the community in the process. Lydia, on the other hand, is brought from the outside world to a community that saves her.
Like all of the books in the Dear America series, Like the Willow Tree includes an epilogue finishing Lydia’s story, an author’s note, period photographs and a map. With this volume, Lowry joins a long list of excellent writers who have made this an outstanding and popular series.