Abilene is sent to Manifest, Kansas to live after something troubling happens and her father promises he will come back for her. While she believes that the move will be temporary (just for a summer), she views her trip as a little time away while Gideon (her father) figures things out. She attends the very last day of school her first day there and the teacher orders her write a story that will be due the first day of school - she has no idea that the story she will uncover will be more than she ever bargained for.
Soon after arriving at Shady's Baptist Church and Bar as it is affectionately dubbed, she discovers and old cigar box in the floorboards which holds mementos from a different time in Manifest. Through the letters and mementos and an eclectic woman whom she works her summer paying off a debt to, Abilene discovers that Manifest has a rich history, and a few secrets of its own. While searching for answers that the old cigar box contains, Abilene finds herself on a journey to figure out who she is and where she comes from. Her story, and the story of Manifest, are put together through stories, letters, and a newspaper reporter's columns.
We are reading this book as a group of teachers and immediately realized that this would be a perfect novel to supplement our U.S. History II curriculum. Set in 1918 and 1936, it takes place in two fascinating time periods in American history. We chose this book simply because it was the Newberry winner for middle school this year. While I have not been sold on all Newberry choices, this looked like a real winner and had gotten rave reviews.
I don't know even how to start to describe how much I LOVED this book. I am a lover of historical fiction, so this book was right up my alley.
This story literally feels like it has been woven together, and that adds an even more endearing quality to the novel. The setting absolutely steals the show both in the where the story takes place and the time period. It is a small town where everyone knows everyone else but what makes Manifest special is that there is a real respect among the residents, something that is falling by the wayside today.
Abilene is a character of such depth and maturity. She is put into a situation that most young people would never be able to handle and she does with grace and respect. She faces an incredible journey and embraces the history she learns and the people with such admiration.
In addition to the setting and characters, the plot is suspenseful and I remember telling a colleague that I still had absolutely no idea how the book would end up when I was almost 3/4 of the way through it. I love a book like that! I hung on ever word along the way, and in my opinion that makes it a phenomenal book.
Check out these resources below...worth the time :)
USA Article on the Novel
Memorable One-Liners from the Novel:
"Anyone worth his weight in salt knows, it's best to get a look at a place before it gets a look at you." (Abilene)
"Look at him...he's sniffing for death in the air." (Ruthanne)
"He says places not that far west of here are so dry that people shrivel up like November leaves and blow all the way to California." (Lettie)
"Memories were like sunshine. They warmed you up and left a pleasant glow, but you couldn't hold them." (Abilene)
"Miss Sadie was an awful purveyor of the future, but she sure knew how to spin a tale from the past." (Abilene)
"And remember Abilene Tucker, to write a good story one must watch and listen." (Sister Redempta)
"Elam bouzshda gramen ze. That is Gypsy...it means that person you encounter is often more than the person you see." (Miss Sadie)
"Some fish get caught for biting and some fish get caught for being in the wrong part of the pond." (Shady)
"According to Lettie, most of the family agreed that in the future, family members would be allowed only one funeral and they'd have to pick if it would be when they were dead or alive." (Abilene)
"It is not down in any map...true places never are." (Ned)
And a hilarious part of one of the newspaper clips...this was in response to a mistake that the paperboy made, he delivered a bunch of old newspapers from 1918 instead of the current ones. In response, Hattie Mae Macke published this in the next paper:
"Well, I guess it's asking too much for Billy Clayton to actually read the papers he delivers. I'm assuming he's got bad eyes, as he hits the bushes and the roof as often as the porch at our house. For those of you who thought that we were back at was with the Huns, that Woodrow Wilson was still president, and that you could buy a washing machine for fourteen dollars, wake up and smell the Depression."
Now you understand why I L-O-V-E this book so much...Happy Reading...