(Two months ago, I posted an update on several authors who have given interviews for us. This week, we’ll review new books by two of them and host a give-away.)
Kirby Larson’s latest work of historical fiction, The Friendship Doll, was a delight from start to finish. As if anyone who read Hattie Big Sky could doubt that it would be. The two books have little in common, but through Hattie, The Fences Between Us, and The Friendship Doll, this lovely author has managed to cover most of the early 20th century, a time when the world was at its worst but somehow produced the richest stories.
But I digress. The Friendship Doll tells the story of four young girls and their encounters with a Japanese Friendship Doll named Miss Kanagawa. The “historical fact” part of this book is that in 1927, fifty-eight hand-crafted dolls were sent from Japan to the US as a sign of goodwill and friendship. They arrived in New York City and were welcomed in a lavish ceremony, including a speech by one of Theodore Roosevelt’s granddaughters. A fictional girl on the welcoming committee, Bunny Harnden, is the first of the four girls to be touched Miss Kanagawa, a doll who takes herself and her role as an “ambassador” a little too seriously.
From Bunny’s story in the years just before the Great Depression, we move forward in time and westward across the US to Lois Brown, living in 1933 Illinois. Willie Mae Marcum in 1937 and Lucy Turner in 1939, along with Lois, have all had to go without as their families struggle with unemployment. These girls never meet each other, only the doll. But each girl has a friend they love and help, and each in turn helps an arrogant doll discover her own capacity for love.
The book reads like four novellas strung together by a common character (Miss Kanagawa) and common themes of loss and friendship. I loved this structure, while at the same time I wished that each story could have been longer. Each girl was compelling in her own way. Many stories have been set during the Depression, but Kirby managed to find some that haven’t been told over and over. Lois, for example, goes to the Chicago World’s Fair–not your average Depression story. Lucy’s story has elements of The Grapes of Wrath, but from a child’s perspective. All of these stories give a rich, complex portrait of this country just before and during the Depression that couldn’t be given just by reading a full-length book about any one of them. But darn it if I don’t wish it could be so!
Stay tuned Friday for a chance to win either a signed copy of The Friendship Doll or a signed copy of Pat Lowry Collins’s latest, which Jennifer will review later in the week. That’s right–one contest, two winners, two different books. Hope you’re enjoying our “catch-up” week!