Giff, Patricia Reilly. 2010. Storyteller. Wendy Lamb Books. ISBN 9780375838880
In the twenty-first century, Elizabeth is sometimes clumsy and often forgetful. She acts without thinking. What she does think, is that she doesn’t want to go to her aunt Libby’s for a few weeks while her father shows and sells his carvings in Australia.
In the eighteenth century, Zee is sometimes clumsy and often forgetful. Her father accuses her of acting without thinking. What she knows, is that war is coming and her peaceful life is changing.
Giff weaves these two girls’ stories together masterfully. Oftentimes, key phrases that are used to describe one girl will be used in the next section to describe the other. Elizabeth’s story is a mystery. She is learning the story of her mother’s family. She is learning stories are what she is good at. She may forget her key, or accidentally break a picture, but she can remember the pieces of stories that her aunt Libby and Libby’s cousin Harry tell. Zee learns that even after losing almost everything, she refuses to lose her land. That strength, that refusal to lose what is most important, is what she is good at.
Giff paints an accurate, if simplified, view of life in Revolutionary America. None of Zee’s actions are without consequences. When Zee allows the sheep to stray before calling for help, she ends up losing two lambs to the snow. When she spills fat for soap, she is unable to make soap with her mother. When she realizes that she has worked the land, gathered herbs, and made it her home, she realizes she cannot serve a foreign king. Yet, for all of the accuracy, Zee is the biggest element of fiction in the novel. While nothing she does (hiking through the wilderness with only stream-water and berries for food, miraculously finding her family, and following the army on foot) is impossible, it is all highly unlikely. Yet, for all of that, it makes a good story.
If Zee is the action, Elizabeth is the heart. While staying with her mother’s sister and learning about her many times great grandmother, seems a little cliche it allows the reader to not only synpathise with the lonly girl, but also to understand why she wants to know about the girl who not only looked like her, but also lost her mother. That bing said, both Libby and Zee are far more dynamic characters than Elizabeth. While she does find herself at the end, her change is small. She wants to know her father’s story.
Like so many other novels about being your own person, this one is rooted in a mixture of the past and hope. Elizabeth does not set out to find herself, or even to do what her father says and learn about her mother’s family. That is what ends up happening, despite Elizabeth’s own reluctance, but the goal was to get through a few weeks with Aunt Libby and go home (which is also what happens).
While it was an enjoyable read, it was predictable. Perhaps the most innovative thing about the whole book, is Elizabeth’s passiveness. For once, the female character is not a spitfire, or a brat, or a scamp with attitude. She is just a girl who wants to get by.
NOMINEE New Hampshire Great Stone Face Children’s Book Master List
NOMINEE Tennessee Volunteer State Book Award
NOMINEE Bank Street Child Study Children’s Book Award
NOMINEE New Jersey Garden State Children’s Book Award
Kirkus-“Readers will be intrigued by their similarities—klutzy and forgetful, yet strong-willed and resourceful. The more compelling drama is Zee’s, whose family is caught up in the conflict of colonists torn between loyalties to crown or American patriotism. History is truly in the small details, and Zee’s story, narrated in first person, past tense, is fascinating and adventurous.”
BookList-“The horror of war is clearly conveyed without graphic specifics, and the historical framework makes this a strong classroom choice.”
Kirkus. 2010. Kirkus Reviews. v.78, no.16. accessed via CLCD http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/bookdetail/index?page=1&pos=11&isbn=978-0-375-83888-0
Rutan, Lynn. 2010. BookList. v.107, no.2. accessed via CLCD http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/bookdetail/index?page=1&pos=11&isbn=978-0-375-83888-0
“Storyteller by Patricia Reilly Giff”. Random House. http://www.randomhouse.com/book/201842/storyteller-by-patricia-reilly-giff#awards