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Over the River    by Sharelle Byars Moranville order for
Over the River
by Sharelle Byars Moranville
Order:  USA  Can
Yearling, 2004 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Over the River unfolds from the viewpoint of eleven-year old Willa Mae Clark of Panther Fork, Illinois. The time frame is post-World War II in the rural United States. Willa Mae's mother, Treva Lorraine Clark, died five years ago. She has been living happily with her maternal grandparents, Will and Mae Shannon, and sixteen-year old Aunty Rose. Her father Harold Clark has served in the U.S. Navy, and his family, the Clarks, live in the same community. Willa Mae wonders when her dad will he returning home from the war, which ended two years ago.

On Memorial Day, Willa Mae, Nana, and Aunty Rose bring flowers on their visit to Mama's gravesite. At Mama's angel marker Willa Mae contemplates, '"Mama?" I said, and waited, listening hard. After a while, I decided the only thing I heard was a plane droning, a bunch of birds, and people talking. Mama almost never answered anymore. She'd gone on to busy herself with heavenly stuff, figuring I was eleven years old now, almost twelve, and in Grandpa's and Nana's good hands.' Willa Mae is aware of old family tensions and secrets over the years. She wonders about the cause of her mother's death, why her father didn't come home when her mother died, why 'Baby Clark' is buried near the cemetery fence and not near Mama, and about the animosity between Grandpa Shannon and Dad.

On a day in 1947, while Willa Mae celebrates her twelfth birthday with Nana, Grandpa, and Aunty Rose, she sees a man walking toward the house. 'Mae Bug' - she hears the name called that was only used by her father. Dad joins the Shannons in the celebration, but Grandpa is distant. Dad and Willa Mae travel to the Clark home to celebrate his homecoming. Unable to find work in Panther Fork as an electrician, Dad decides that he and Willa Mae will move to Oklahoma for a fresh start, and to set up his business. The adjustment to Oklahoma, in a small apartment, is a trial for Willa Mae. However, it does have thrilling advantages - electric lights, a bathroom with a bathtub and indoor plumbing, and a flat roof to sit on and watch the stars. Dad trains Willa Mae as his apprentice in the home installation of electricity, at which they prosper. But Willa Mae remains homesick, as the relocation takes her away from the farm, the livestock, and the loving family she has known since her Mom's death. Not wanting to have to choose between those she loves, Willa Mae desperately tries to think of a way to fix the problem between father and grandfather.

Sharelle Byars Moranville has created a contemplative tale with effective, strong characters, lending a telescopic view of life in the late 1940s - with electricity reaching rural areas, memories of days of Burma Shave signs along the roadway, Packard automobiles, delivery of ice blocks to homes by the iceman, and the churning of home made cream. The author's descriptions - of Mason jars of home-canned peaches, Willa Mae's first bath in a tub, Lifebuoy soap, and the excitement of crossing the Mississippi River - are to savor. Moranville is a professor of writing and literature, and I highly recommend Over the River, her first novel for young readers.

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