||Beaver Meadow Publishing
||July 1, 2008
A young boy on the cusp of manhood in turn of the century Adirondack Mountains wrestles with decisions while his family struggles through hard times.
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Beaver Meadow Publishing
It is the summer of 1898 in the Adirondack Mountain town of Thurman, NY. Serious problems that plague his family will impact thirteen-year-old Hollis Ingraham in the weeks ahead, threatening his happiness and making it more difficult for him to steal time from his farm chores to draw the plants and animals of the surrounding countryside.
The promise of visiting relatives takes the family to Thurman Station, and a shrill whistle down the tracks announces the incoming train. Aboard are strangers who will share the summer with Hollis and influence his life in ways that he cannot imagine.
The strangers who come to Thurman become a focal point of the summer, at the same time that those close to Hollis recede into the turmoil of family difficulties, no longer able to serve as his sounding boards and problem solvers. Hollis is entrusted with secrets and must make wise decisions about how best to honor them. Values are tested when he has to choose between self-interest and family.
Set against a backdrop of turn of the century Adirondack farms and forests, A Summer of Strangers teaches a tacit history lesson and highlights still-pertinent ecological issues.
303 pp., 37 illus. by Laurel G. Nittinger and Richard Granger
A mound of moss beckoned
his still-tender feet and he eased them into it, reveling in the
cool softness. Next, at the edge of a balsam thicket, he paused to
study ferns that clustered thick and tall. He sketched quickly, first the
long, gracefully curved line of the center stalk, then the lateral
branches that paralleled each other along the frond, each with pairs
of individual leaflets along its length. He paid extra attention to
count the number of pairs and copy exactly the ragged edges of the
leaflets. With his knife, he sharpened his pencil and began to draw
the veins in each.
It was then that the faint scent of wood smoke met his nostrils.
Wood smoke? Here? There were no homes nearby, and it wasn’t likely
there were any hunters camped in the woods this time of year. He
couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Who could it be?
His eyes, searching the trail for some sign of human passage,
caught sight of a partial boot print in the soft soil at the very edge of
the path. As Hollis stopped to study it, he saw nearby some flattened
grass and small snapped twigs. Whoever had recently walked this
trail had stepped off it here.
Was he watching Hollis from the cover of the undergrowth? He
peered into the brush on either side of the road, but saw no one, just
the tracks. Jacques St. Hubert had taught him how to look for signs
in the woods and read them, and Hollis couldn’t resist the urge to
track these mysterious footprints. He stepped silently into the woods,
recalling everything he’d been told. At a snail’s pace he went, careful
not to destroy any of the clues this unknown person had left. His
eyes swept back and forth across the ground, and he proceeded step
by step, deeper into the woods.
It was a good thing that the dry twigs in the campfire crackled
when they did, or Hollis, eyes glued to the ground, might have stumbled
right into the clearing, not seeing his quarry before his quarry
saw him. Eyes darting up, he spotted just a few yards ahead of him a
stranger, kneeling before a small fire in an open area. Scarcely breathing,
Hollis shrank back behind a bushy young hemlock tree and continued
to gawk. On a flat rock beside the man, within easy reach, lay
a gleaming hunting knife. Hollis eyed it with fascination. The
stranger was adding to the fire some bits of shaved tree bark, leaves
and pine needles and fanning it with a floppy felt hat to coax sparks
into flames. A kettle hung over the cook fire, waiting for heat.
At last satisfied that the fire had caught, the man rose to his
feet. Hollis flinched as he picked up the knife, exhaling when he saw
it slide into a sheath that hung from the man’s belt. The stranger
brushed dirt and leaves off his black and red plaid shirt, once more
settled the floppy hat on his raggedly-chopped hair and hitched up
ill-fitting pants. Hollis felt guilty about spying. What business was it
of his if someone wanted to camp in these woods? He shouldn’t be
here. And yet, seeing but not being seen held a strange allure. And
there was something familiar about that profile, something that
The man walked over to a lean-to framed with saplings and
branches and covered with big slabs of tree bark, almost invisible at
the far edge of the clearing. He stretched his slight frame to unhook
the strap of a large knapsack from the lean-to rafters and lowered it
to the ground. That knapsack! Instantly Hollis knew. In his mind’s
eye he saw that same slender form, pack piled high, slipping between
the freight cars and into the scrub growth beside the train tracks.
It was the railroad bum! What was he doing up at this end of
the town, so far from the tracks and the next free ride? Hollis had to
draw him again, now that he could see better and had more time.
Bold lines raced across the paper–the slope of the shoulders, the
curve of the cheek, mostly turned away from him. He wished he’d
turn around! He drew the untucked checkerboard flannel shirt
hanging down to the knees, coarse, tweedy trousers, boots. Next
came the hat and raggedy shoulder-length hair. The hobo dug
around in his pack, searching for something. At last he stood, his
hand withdrawing something silvery and shiny from the duffel’s dark
Hollis placed his drawing pad on the ground against a hemlock
trunk and inched back a small branch for a better view. Finally he
was able to get a glimpse of what appeared to be a hairbrush. The
hobo removed the floppy hat and raised the thing to his hair–it was
a brush, with a silver handle–and began vigorously brushing. His
hair caught the sunlight the same way Maizie’s chestnut coat did
when she grazed in the field. Hollis had never seen a man brush his
hair this way, with long brisk strokes from scalp to tip. Next he
picked up the enameled coffee pot, poured some water from it into
a basin and began to splash his face with water and lather it up.
Would he use that knife to shave? No, the stranger didn’t shave, not
just then, anyway. Instead he just rinsed the soap off. Hollis wondered
about that brush.
Where would a railroad bum get a silver brush? The only explanation
was that he’d stolen it. And if he’d stolen that, was anything
or anybody safe? He was in danger! Hollis began to edge further away
from the clearing.
What happened next was stupid. Fear had driven everything he
had ever learned about tracking right out of his head. As he prepared
to sneak away from the campsite, he shifted his weight. SNAP! A
dead twig exploded beneath his careless feet. The stranger simultaneously
reached for the knife and whirled to look in his direction.
Hollis dodged behind a tree but knew it was too late to hide. He
turned and ran wildly through the brush and trees. All thought of
being quiet or retreating unseen was now gone. His feet hit the trail,
and he raced for the safety of home.
It wasn’t until he emerged from the woods behind the barn and
could see Ma and Grandma Julia bent over laundry tubs in the yard
that he dared to rest. His side ached from running so fast. After
catching his breath, he started toward them.
He needed to tell them about the hobo camped so close to
their home. Maybe this railroad bum was dangerous! What if the
family’s safety was threatened? Maybe Gibby should know. Perhaps
they should pen up Pippin and Lady at night and lock their doors.
He had to tell.
Then Hollis paused. Maybe he shouldn’t tell them about the
secret camp. What if they wouldn’t let him go in the woods anymore?
What if he wasn’t allowed to take the shortcut to Nick’s house or
watch the animals at Jim Russell’s pond? No, maybe he shouldn’t
A Summer of Strangers
The year is 1898 and summer is fast approaching. In Persis Granger’s second novel, Adirondack Gold II: A Summer of Strangers the reader is quickly pulled back into the world of Hollis Ingraham and his family on their farm in Thurman, NY. About three years have past in his life and new adventures await young Hollis. Though this novel is a sequel to her 2003 novel Adirondack Gold, the composition is complete and new readers will not be lost if they are just starting their journey with Hollis here.
Granger’s exploration of family ties and a son’s sense of duty keep the reader deeply invested in the life of young Hollis. At thirteen, Hollis is still a boy, but is faced with many adult choices and struggles. Often, he must make decisions beyond his thirteen years. Hollis must choose between his own wants and what would be best for his family and close friends. He is torn between his personal desire to capture the beautiful landscape and creatures in the world around him in his sketches and the needs of his family, who as farmers must use every waking minute of the summer day to prepare for the coming winter. Hollis spends the majority of his days working with his stepfather, Gibby, and only slips away in the short time after supper and before dusk to sketch after his chores have been completed.
During one of his daily explorations, Hollis meets a young woman, Olivia, who encourages his artistic talents and exposes him to thoughts and ideas beyond his early education. She introduces him to the writings of Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, both of whom express ideas that fit with Hollis’s own views on environmentalism. His new friend shows him how his artistic talent can help show others what treasures are hidden within the forest as well as teach why it’s important to respect the land and its inhabitants. Hollis approaches his and Olivia’s collective goals with the seriousness of a grown man and demonstrates his desire to protect an endangered land.
Adirondack Gold II: A Summer of Strangers depicts a simpler way of life that is reminiscent without being overly didactic. Granger’s understanding of what daily life looked like in the 1890s in Upstate New York is embedded in her prose. The responsibilities that all members of a farming family carry are a shared burden for all throughout the entire community. The reader comes away from the novel with full knowledge of “hay season” – the importance of a good season for cuttings to sell, feed for one’s own livestock and the weight that these short months have on the rest of the year for Hollis’s family.
Granger develops several sets of characters across multiple generations. Hollis’s grandparents, parents and friends each show the many dimensions of rural living at the turn of the century. Each family has their own struggles, but is supported by the entire community. The reader not only understands the country town through the eyes of Hollis, but also through the sense of community for which small farming towns are made idyllic. Hollis’s neighbors are his extended family. The town of Thurman itself becomes a main character through Granger’s descriptions and research on the history of this small town.
Illustrations by Laurel G. Nittinger capture Granger’s prose in picture form and add depth to the story. The reader gets a sneak peek into Hollis’s sketchbook through Nittinger’s images.
Though classed as Young Adult Historical Fiction this story is sure to please readers of all ages. The storyline is captivating and Granger’s sense of detail and excellent descriptions will hold you until the last pages and leave you ready for more.
by Theresa Studnicky
Adirondack Gold II: A Summer of Strangers
Story by Persis Granger, Pictures by Laurel G. Nittinger
303 pp. Beaver Meadow Publishing. 2008. $11.95
A Wondeful Summer
November 2, 2008
By Laurie Loveman (Chagrin Falls OH)
It's the summer of 1898, and in Thurman, New York, 13-year-old Hollis Ingraham faces a summer where he will have to make decisions that place his desires in potential conflict with those of his family. What shall he do when he discovers a campsite in the woods? Will he be able to keep the colt, Pippin, whom he loves dearly, or will family circumstances force his stepfather to sell Pippin?
Hollis' art talent is put to good use by the stranger at the campsite, who becomes Hollis' friend as together they write and illustrate a nature book. As summer draws to a close, Hollis is able to come to terms with the decisions that seem best for his family and for what he hopes will be in his future.
Persis Granger brings Hollis, his family, and his friends to vivid life. We sweat in the sun making hay; we labor in the barn, inhaling the earthy aromas of livestock and fresh mown hay. We share the family's concerns and daily chores. And what a treat to pause for a moment and enjoy the beautiful illustrations by Laurel G. Nittinger!
A Summer of Strangers was written for young adult readers, but as an adult, I found A Summer of Strangers a wonderful way to escape today's troubles and to spend a summer when life seemed a little simpler. I was pleased to learn that Hollis' summer experiences opened some exciting doors for him, but I was sorry when autumn arrived and I had to leave Hollis. I hope I'll have the opportunity to experience life with Hollis as he grows towards manhood.
Laurie Loveman, Author
MEMORIES: Firehouse Family Series Book One
THE QUARRY: Firehouse Family Series Book Two
THE FARM FIRES: Firehouse Family Series Book Three
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