The novel opens on July 1, 1964. The main action ends in August, the last paragraph referring to "that burned afternoon in August" (302--why "burned"?) when T. Ray walks out of Lily’s life. The book covers several weeks. If I were a South Carolina resident, I would be unhappy since the author's depiction of the state is unflattering. An early chapter refers to Fort Sumter in a way that gives South Carolina the dubious honor of starting the Civil War in the 1860s. The town's name, Sylvan, is symbolic since "sylvan" has to do with trees and what we might find in the woods, such as bees, flowers, and birds (all are symbols in the novel).
On page 18, T. Ray alarmed by Lily saying that she remembers the day Deborah died. Why should T. Ray be alarmed? Shouldn't he be relieved that Lily knows what happened? If Lily remembers, it would save him trouble explaining everything. But T. Ray is not relieved because he wants to tell lies. The best explanation for T. Ray's alarm is that T. Ray had pulled the trigger on the gun. He is "off the hook" if he can blame it on four-year-old Lily. But if Lily remembers, that complicates matters. T. Ray is soon relieved to find that Lily's memories are hazy, limited. That means he can feed memories into her head, putting blame on her, freeing him. T. Ray is the one who shot Deborah.
On page 29 Lily and T. Ray attend a Baptist church. Later on page 29 we learn Rosaleen had attended the House of Prayer Full Gospel Holiness but stopped since Sunday service lasted five hours. T. Ray dismisses Rosaleen's religion as “plain wacko,” which reminds us that T. Ray is narrow-minded. It is foreshadowing since later Lily learns about August’s religious views, which T. Ray views as plain wacko. August's religion is unusual, and I'm surprised that our Catholic school lets us assign the novel. (The naughty language is also objectionable. It’s good that Lily eventually gives up the bad language after having August as a role model.)
Chapter 2: White men are evil in this chapter--or if the minister named Brother Gerald is not exactly evil, he is an unlikeable man of God. We saw the start of this pattern of white males being bad in Chapter 1. But in real life many white men have good hearts and do good deeds--readers would never know that from this literary work. I get annoyed with the novel because white men are stereotyped as evil (an exception is Clayton Forrest), and I dislike stereotypes. I mentioned Mr. Forrest--get it? Name symbolism. I already said that "Sylvan" (or sylvan) means "associated with trees," and this good guy's name is Forrest (like forest).
Chapter 3 opens with a reference to Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Lily gives a wrong title, calling the book Walden Pond. It is hard to envision a teacher reading Thoreau to 8th graders (college students have trouble understanding Thoreau!). The 5th paragraph talks about Lily's anti-Catholic upbringing. Catholics are distrusted in many parts of America--at least this was true decades ago. In July, 1964, America was mourning the murder of John F. Kennedy, America's sole Catholic president. JFK's successor, President Johnson, is named a few times. I easily remember "1964" if you ask me the year of the novel since it was the year America went nutty for the Beatles (my fav, obvi).
Chapter 4: Lily and Rosaleen end up in the Boatwright house (or the Boatwrights' house, with an apostrophe after the "s" since three Boatwright sisters make it plural--see?). It turns out to be the perfect home. How did the two refugees from Sylvan end up here in the perfect home? An important step was hitchhiking. One message of the novel is that if you have too much drama at home, run away. Walk to a freeway or highway. Stick out your thumb. A kind adult in a car or truck will see you--a vulnerable girl--hitchhiking, and that person will drive you to a town in which you'll find a loving, nurturing home. Hitchhiking solves all problems if you feel unloved at home! I am being sarcastic. I do not recommend hitchhiking to anyone. (Amber Alert!)
Chapter 5: The vocabulary is not challenging in this chapter, which worries me since I want students to grow as readers. The novel's subject matters (racism, religion, teen angst) are mature, yet the vocabulary is at a 6th grade reading level. (We must reach for a dictionary to understand every page of the Sherlock Holmes novel.)
I wish Kidd's novel included challenging vocabulary. I did look up "motes" (top of page 31), which turned out to be dust motes--that is, bits of dust you can see in a ray of light. On page 84, Lily states, “We lived for honey. We swallowed a spoonful...at night to put us to sleep.” Lily should brush before sleeping--toothpaste is better than honey.