Autumn Winifred Oliver is eleven years old. She fidgets, speaks her mind, and has a talent for drawing. Her neighbors call her “rascally,” “rampageous,” and “up to no good,” but Autumn can’t help it; she’s restless, and most of all—as her creator, Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, clearly states in the title of this charming debut novel—Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different.
Fans of Autumn are glad she does, for it’s this quirk that makes the book—geared towards adolescents and recently released in paperback—such a delight to read. Tubbs was raised in East Tennessee, and she sets her novel in Cade’s Cove, “a speck of a town surrounded by wave after wave of mountains.” It’s 1934, and the world is changing: the U.S. government has plans to create a national park in the area, and since Cade’s Cove will soon border the park, her grandfather believes there are riches to be made. Naturally, all the tourists are “going to need places to sleep, eat, and get gasoline for their autos.”
Autumn eagerly anticipates these changes because they mean her family will move to Knoxville. Unlike her mother, she doesn’t care that it’s “big and noisy and dangerous.” Knoxville is a “real city, with drugstores and train tracks and strangers,” not to mention movie theaters, soda counters, and “clear-as-a-bell radio play.” In Knoxville, Autumn can “start really living.” But then Autumn’s grandfather injures himself in a fall from a barn loft, and the family’s plans are delayed.
When Autumn meets Cody, the trouble-making fun begins. New to the area, Cody is a “squirrelly-headed boy with thick, thick, thick glasses” who looks “all moony-eyed” at Autumn. She views him as “that one pesky housefly you just can’t swat,” and wants nothing to do with being his friend: “Look, I know my mama told you I’d show you around,” she says, “but I’m not much for sidekicks. Got it?”
Cody is persistent, though, and soon the two are listening to the terrifying sound of panthers screaming in the night, visiting a moonshiner in forbidden Chestnut Flats, and riding coffins down a swollen mountain creek. It’s Cody who awakens Autumn to just how special Cade’s Cove really is, telling her, “Take a look around, Autumn. This place is magic!” Sitting on a riverbank together, where “clumps of azalea bushes bloomed fiery red in the cool shade of the tall pines and elms and oaks,” Autumn looks up into the forest canopy and for the first time “see[s] this place with new eyes.” All around her, “birds chirped and water tinkled and leaves whooshed in near-perfect three-part harmony.”
Autumn understands that such beauty has to be preserved, but at what cost? There are hints the government is planning to expand the boundaries of the park, and the people in Cade’s Cove may have to leave the land they’ve farmed for generations. If they fight against the park, however, it’s likely the lumber companies will swoop in with their chain-saws and “strip this place bare.” As Autumn’s grandfather explains, already there’s “mud washing down the mountains, pooling in our fields and destroying our crops” in some parts of the area. But those same lumber companies employ Autumn’s father, and without them he’d be out of a job.
Autumn can’t imagine “having the friends and family I’ve known my whole life scattered around like dandelion seeds.” She doesn’t have an answer to the conundrum; for Autumn Winifred Oliver, the only sure thing is that “I do things different.” Whether it’s “wrangling a flock of geese,” “filching explosives from the United States government,” or “duping tourists for cash money,” Autumn could be Huck Finn’s twin sister. She’s an endearing character, her “differences” making for one joyful surprise after another.
Tagged: Children & YA