One Came Home by Amy Timberlake

Sometimes a clever and intriguing story line makes a novel great. Sometimes, it is the interaction of a number of interesting characters. And other times, a novel is great because because of the carefully developed setting that gives life to the situations and characters. In One Came Home (January 2013, Knopf Books for Young Readers), Amy Timberlake manages to win in all three ways. 

One Came Home begins with Agatha’s funeral, but the narrator, Agatha’s 13-year-old sister Georgie, cannot accept that Agatha is dead. This begins her own adventure as she sets off searching for answer to how and why the body, which clearly appears to be Agatha, is now dead. If it is her sister, what happened? If it is not her sister, who is it? And where is Agatha?

What makes One Came Home all the more remarkable is that Ms Timberlake has written such a compelling story, with such compelling characters, in such a compelling setting, that is also historical fiction. Set in a rural Wisconsin community in 1871 during the largest ever recorded wild pigeon migration/nesting, One Came Home also provides an intriguing look in to a once plentiful bird that is now extinct.

One Came Home is an adventure with an additional emphasis on relationships. Georgie comes to terms with her relationship with her sister, her relationship with her mother and grandfather, and her relationship with Agatha’s suitors, which is not necessarily comfortable for her. Georgie also comes to learn a lot about herself.

So in this apparently simple novel, we have history, science, a plethora of figurative language and other literary analysis options, and traditional bildungsroman and odyssey themes to explore. It is amazing how tightly all these things fit together.

By the end of her adventures, Georgie has come through as a changed person. Nothing will ever be the same. Despite her mother’s joy that one of her daughters came home again, Georgie has grown and become more than she was before. She came home, but she is not quite the same person that she was at the beginning of her adventures.

I highly enjoyed reading One Came Home. It was definitely a worthy selection for the 2014 Newbery Honor.