Dear America: Like the Willow Tree by Lois Lowry (Published by Scholastic, January 1, 2011)
Eleven-year-old Lydia Pierce lives a carefree life in Portland, Main, in 1918, until the terrible flu epidemic that is spreading worldwide takes the lives of her parents and baby sister. Lydia and her older brother Daniel are now orphans, and their aunt and uncle have no room for them on the crowded family farm. With no other options available, their uncle takes them to live in Sabbathday Lake with the Shakers, who care for orphaned children.
Life with the Shakers is very different from Lydia’s old life in Portland. The Shakers have many rules that must be strictly followed. Males and females must stay separate and not socialize, which means Lydia can rarely speak to her brother. In her diary Lydia describes her first few months living with the Shakers and how she eventually adjusts and finds some happiness in her new life.
I was really looking forward to this new Dear America book as the historical setting looked really interesting and unique. However, the main character, Lydia, seemed to adjust far too quickly to her new life. Her parents and little sister died, she and her brother were separated, she had to start a totally new life in a place with very different rules and a new religion, where she could not even keep the few mementos she had of her family and old life - and less than a month later, she didn’t seem too sad or concerned and her only worry was that she thought her brother might be unhappy. It seemed more than a bit unrealistic for an eleven-year-old girl to adjust so quickly to so many losses and I would have enjoyed the story more and found it more realistic if these changes in Lydia had taken place over a longer period of time. While the historical information was interesting - I hadn’t read any books before about Shaker life during this time period - ultimately, I just found the main character to be totally unrealistic. Possibly still worth a read if you are a dedicated fan of the series, for the historical details and interesting setting.