More than a decade after first meeting May Amelia in the Newbery Honor book Our Only May Amelia (1999), readers will again find themselves rooting for the girl with spunk and spirit who navigates a river of difficulties to find her place in a land dominated by “trees and cows and sheep and bears and brothers.”
In The Trouble with May Amelia, being born and raised “in the middle of nowhere” on Washington State’s Nasel River in 1900 is trouble enough. Even more trouble comes from being the only girl on a farm with a herd of seven brothers. Add to that a Pappa who finds girls useless, particularly one who does not meet his expectations of what “A Proper Young Lady” should be, and May Amelia Jackson is “in Trouble Forever.”
The Jackson farm is situated among a community of hard-working Finnish immigrants. Not all the adults speak English fluently and contact with outsiders is infrequent. It is the turn of the century and settling undeveloped areas of America is often difficult: Bears and cougars threaten the Jackson’s livestock; logs from the logging camp regularly barrel downstream and become life-threatening to anyone on the river; and doctors and medicine are not close at hand. The worst difficulty comes for 12-year-old May when a man in a suit shows up and convinces Pappa, with May’s translation services, to invest in a plan to develop Nasel into a boomtown. The Jackson family, and many others who follow Pappa’s lead, lose everything when the plan is exposed as fraudulent. Pappa’s sole source of blame for the family’s ruin is the translator herself, May Amelia. With guts and courage, May Amelia overcomes Pappa’s blame and the community’s hopelessness, and the reader will be compelled to cheer when she finally does.
Using stories from her own Finnish immigrant family, Jennifer L. Holm recreates an unforgettable character whose adventures will have young readers wishing they could run right alongside May. Wilbert, May’s best brother, often compares her to an irritating grain of sand in an oyster, and after reading The Trouble with May Amelia, the reader’s reward is a genuine pearl.