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Like the Willow Tree: The Diary of Lydia Amelia Pierce: Portland, Maine, 1918


Like the Willow Tree: The Diary of Lydia Amelia Pierce: Portland, Maine, 1918

Lydia Pierce has just begun writing in her journal, and it couldn’t be at a better time. It’s 1918, and the Spanish influenza is an epidemic striking city after city. Soon after her 11th birthday, Lydia’s parents and baby sister die from the flu, and she and her brother, Daniel, are left on their own. They spend some time with their uncle and aunt, though in wartime, nobody can afford to have extra mouths to feed.

But the Shakers can. A secluded religious group, the Shakers live on Sabbathday Lake and are happy to take Lydia and Daniel in. Lydia appreciates their kindness, but the Shakers’ customs are strange to her. Immediately upon arrival, Lydia is separated from her brother and taken to live with the other girls her age.

Though it takes her a while to get used to things, Lydia soon learns the ropes, going to school and working with everyone else. What keeps her motivated is the prospect of changing jobs and being able to help with the candymaking, one of the many activities the Shakers engage in to make money and sustain their simple way of life. But Daniel won’t adjust, and soon he disappears from Sabbathday Lake. Lydia is torn between her loyalty to her brother and her growing fondness for the Shakers who have become her family.

LIKE THE WILLOW TREE is not an adventure story, and it doesn’t cover the events of a terrible war or the exciting development of a new city. Instead, like the Shakers themselves, it’s a simple tale that is mature and subtle and will appeal to readers who prefer characters over plot  or who like to feel as if they’re learning alongside the protagonist.

It’s also a great piece of historical fiction and a glimpse into a small but influential piece of Americana that has all but disappeared. The Shakers themselves were unique, and this book is equally so for Lois Lowry’s choice in shedding light on them. This isn’t just any Dear America volume --- it’s the best one I’ve read in a long time.

Reviewed by Sarah Hannah Gómez on January 1, 2011

Like the Willow Tree: The Diary of Lydia Amelia Pierce: Portland, Maine, 1918
by Lois Lowry

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2011
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
  • ISBN-10: 0545144698
  • ISBN-13: 9780545144698