Hard times have been coming fast and true for Charlie Anne and her siblings. Their mama died in childbirth. And now, with the Depression hitting hard, their daddy and brother must head north to help build roads—promising to send money home as soon as possible.
Could life get any worse? It soon does when the siblings have to live with crotchety, demanding cousin Mirabel, who works them to the bone—tending to the animals, cleaning the house and barn, making vinegar pie.
But, as the title implies, Charlie Anne is indeed a wonder, somehow managing to infuse her family with the right stuff. When neighbor Old Mr. Jolly brings home a new wife and a young African-American girl, Phoebe, Charlie Anne’s life picks up as she aligns herself with this happy, progressive family, much to cousin Mirabel’s—and the entire town’s—vocal dismay, ugliness and bigotry.
The wonder in Charlie Anne is in her tenacity to defend family bonds and to protect friendships at all costs, to do the right thing no matter who opposes her and to better herself. And, eventually, her actions have an effect on her entire family and on the town, as well.
Charlie Anne must endure a lot of anger, uncertainty and bitterness, and learn about the true nature of people, before she begins to see a change. And unfortunately, it takes a tragedy to turn some people around—including rigid Mirabel. But in the end, good triumphs over bad, showing just what the wonder of Charlie Anne can accomplish.
Kimberly Newton Fusco’s first book, Tending to Grace, won the Schneider Family Book Award for its portrayal of a child with a disability (stuttering). In her second middle grade novel, she has created memorable characters whom readers will either admire or despise—a testament to her attention to detail and believable dialogue.
While Mirabel’s “awakening” seems abrupt and the ending a bit too idealistic, overall, The Wonder of Charlie Anne is both a charming and thoughtful read. Its issues of family, race relations and hard times remain relevant for today’s young readers.