Thirteen year old Salamanca Tree Hiddle is on the trip of a lifetime — a trip that will reunite her with her mother after a whole year of separation. Together with her grandparents, she retraces her mother’s steps to Lewiston, Idaho, where her mother is.
On the road, Sal entertains her grandparents with tales of her new friend, Phoebe Winterbottom. And as she tells them about Phoebe, her own story unfolds.
I first read this 1995 Newberry winner when I was in high school. Many years later, I finally found a copy of the book and I remembered why I loved it so well.
The book mainly deals with loss, a feeling everyone is familiar with, and how different people cope and come to terms with it. Sal is so candid at telling her story that you can feel the truth in what she’s saying, whether they’re hilarious observations about the things happening around her, or her deepest emotions that she tries hard to conceal.
Here are some favorite lines from the book:
“Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” – the lunatic
“Everyone has his own agenda.” – the lunatic
“Everybody is just walking along concerned with his own problems, his own life, his own worries. And we’re all expecting other people to tune into our own agenda. ‘Look at my worry. Worry with me. Step into my life. Care about my problems. Care about me.” – Gram
“In a course of a lifetime, what does it matter?” – the lunatic
“…I wished that my father was not such a good man, so there would be someone to blame for my mother’s leaving. I didn’t want to blame her. She was my mother, and she was part of me.” – Sal
“I had brought a chicken in from the coop: ‘Would Mom leave her favorite chicken?’ I demanded. ‘She loves this chicken.’ What I really meant to say was. ‘How can she not come back to me? She loves me.’ “- Sal
“Sometimes you know in your heart you love someone, but you have to go away before your head can figure it out.” – Gram
“You can’t keep the birds of sadness from flying over your head, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair.” – the lunatic
” I knew that sometimes you had to be alone with the birds of sadness. Sometimes you had to cry by yourself.” – Sal
“I tried to picture what the room was like and what room we were in and what she was wearing and what precisely she had said. This was not a game. It was a necessary, crucial thing to do. If I did not have these things, and remember these occasions, then she might disappear forever. She might never have been.” – Sal
“Our heads moved together and our lips landed in the right place, which was on the other person’s lips. It was a real kiss, and it did not taste like chicken… I felt like the newlY born horse who knows nothing but feels everything. Ben touched his lips. ‘Did it taste a little like blackberries to you?’ ” – Sal
“Ben was sitting on the front steps when I got home. He said, ‘I brought you something.’ There, strutting across the grass, was a chicken. I had never been so happy to see a chicken. When I asked him what its name was, he leaned forward and I leaned forward, and another kiss happened, a spectacular kiss, a perfect kiss, and Ben said, ‘Its name is Blackberry.’ ” – Sal
The book keeps you guessing until the end, and you realize Creech has successfully passed on some wisdom beyond Sal’s age and understanding, without making it contrived and artificial.
By the final chapters, I was crying buckets. It’s like finding an old friend, one who knows exactly how you feel. It’s beautifully written, wise, funny, and poignant, all at the same time.
My copy: originally a tattered paperback (got lost), replaced with another paperback from Book Sale, upgraded into a hardcover (library binding) with a tear on the front cover, also from Book Sale
My rating: 5/5 stars