I’m excited to be back today with a review of A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-32 by Joan W. Blos. This novel won the Newbery Medal in 1980.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this Newbery winner from 1980. Written as a journal of 14 year old Catherine, the story is told through her entries of an important year in her life. I loved this story and the journal style.
- I read this book on my Libby app on my phone. It was a good ebook experience with all the chapter breaks and breaks between journal entries.
- This book reminded me a bit of the Dear America book series which I loved when I was younger. The journal entries and historical setting puts this in the same sort of genre as those books.
According to Goodreads, “I, Catherine Cabot Hall, aged 13 years, 6 months, 29 days…do begin this book.
So begins the journal of a girl coming of age in nineteenth-century New Hampshire. Catherine records both the hardships of pioneer life and its many triumphs. Even as she struggles with her mother’s death and father’s eventual remarriage, Catherine’s indomitable spirit makes this saga an oftentimes uplifting and joyous one.
Quiet yet powerful, this Newbery Medal–winning book is sure to touch all who read it.”
I enjoy unique styles in novels and this journal entry style was quite fun. It was easy to read a bit everyday because of the quick entries. But it also gave a fun spin on the events of the book. We hear about what happens second hand as Catherine is writing about it. It offers a more unique perspective on the events in the book. Additionally, it offers a limited narration of events which both intrigued me and left mysteries unresolved. I would have loved more details about the escaped slave or a perspective from Catherine’s step mother on certain scenes. But I also loved the simple way Catherine sees her world and the ways she build relationships and finds the good in her life. I would have enjoyed even more journal entries or a longer time period.
I was impressed by the simple yet poignant ways the author connects to world events at the time period. The story includes discussions about runaway slaves, the slavery versus abolition debate, Independence Day in early America, and the build up to the Civil War. All these events are seen through Catherine’s eyes which gives an innocence to these sometimes intense issues. The author incorporates these issues well into her story–not overwhelming the journal with political and social debates but allowing them to build the story with Catherine’s day to day experiences. I was surprised by the interactions with the “phantom” turned runaway slave. That was so intriguing and one of my favorite parts of the book. My knowledge of 1830’s America is limited so I was fascinated by these details.
Catherine is an intriguing narrator who describes her life with poignant details and simple imagery. The most intriguing parts of her journal were the moments she describes her relationships with others. I was really impressed by the development of her relationship with her stepmother, Ann. At first, Catherine doesn’t like her and disagrees with everything she does and says. But slowly they build a relationship and I appreciated that. Also I enjoyed Catherine’s sweet friendship with Cassie and how they confide in each other and help each other. Theirs is a kindred spirits friendship and it touched my heart how their relationship grows and changes. Catherine describes her New England farm life setting with simple and easy to see language. I could picture them gathered around their fire at night or walking the paths to school. This was a hard life and a simple one. She offers details about cleaning, cooking, farming, and surviving, the big snow and the breakout when it melts, school and home life balance, friendships and how to show you care.
This is a really enjoyable book! I loved the historical setting and the journal style. Catherine has a powerful narrative voice and her experiences during this year of her life truly shape her into the woman she becomes. Highly recommend for fans of historical fiction and stories that celebrate the best of friendships and communities.
What are your favorite historical fiction novels for kids?
Any Dear America fans out there? Which were your favorites?