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In 1932, the Depression weighs heavily across the entire country. But for 11-year-old Tennyson Fontaine and her eight-year-old sister, Hattie, life goes on as normal in their simple shack home near the banks of the Mississippi. They spend their days playing hide-and-seek in the surrounding forests, staying out of their mother’s way while she writes her stories and poems, and pass the evenings reading stories and history books with their father. When they’re not partaking in these activities, they’re swinging on the rope swing hanging in the kitchen.

One time, and one time only, Tennyson makes the mistake of fixing one of her mom’s stories; she has the natural writing talents that her mom only dreams of having. But her mom gets jealous and angry when she fixes the story so easily, so she never attempts to help again. One of Tennyson’s main responsibilities is trying to keep her mom happy.

However, one evening her mother never returns home. Her father goes out to search for her, but returns empty-handed the following morning. Not knowing what else to do, he packs up his daughters and delivers them into his sister’s care while he continues the search. Aunt Henrietta and Uncle Twigs live in the Fontaine family home, an old southern Louisiana plantation house called Aigredoux. Though rich in history, Aigredoux is falling apart and overgrown with vines. Aunt Henrietta and Uncle Twigs seem to be stuck in the past as well, clinging to their rigid southern manners and outdated way of life. From the moment they meet, Aunt Henrietta and Tennyson’s personalities painfully collide, and the future appears bleak and lonely.

Then Tennyson has an idea. She will write a story and get it published in her mom’s favorite magazine. Her mom will see it and then feel compelled to return home to her family. But what to write? Tennyson starts having vivid dreams about the history of Aigredoux, dreams that are startlingly close to reality. As Tennyson writes her stories in order to call her mom home, she gradually grows closer to the dilapidated house, despite all of its dark family secrets being revealed.

Lesley M. M. Blume successfully displays her immense writing talents once again. She reawakens the past with vivid descriptions and careful research, taking readers on a personal tour of the Deep South and the stains humanity has left on her soil. The colorful characters leave a lasting impression, bringing the story to life with their funny quirks, deep-rooted lifestyles and distinctive individualities. And then the author weaves the entire tale together with her incredibly poetic, heartfelt and sincere writing style:

“Trees grew on either side of the driveway and they reached across and intertwined branches to make a long, dark tunnel. These trees were as lazy and heavy as the air. Instead of reaching up toward the sky, the bottom branches of Aigredoux’s trees lay across the ground. Tennyson almost expected them to yawn and wake up and stretch their branches toward the sky where they belonged. But they didn’t wake up; they just kept sleeping their drugged slumber. Thick gray Spanish moss hung from every branch, sullenly drinking up the light and looking like ghost clothes that had been flung up there to dry.”

TENNYSON is a wonderful book!

Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman on January 8, 2008

by Lesley M. M. Blume

  • Publication Date: January 8, 2008
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0375847030
  • ISBN-13: 9780375847035