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Available at Amazon.com
Category: Contemporary
Date Published: March 7, 2011
Number of Pages: 368
Print Price: $7.19
eBook Price: $

Eleven-year-old Polly Peabody lives on a rhubarb farm with her mother, father, brother, sister, and aunt.  It is a magical farm in a mythical Midwestern state that has mountains and is plagued with drought (Van Cleve’s whimsical geography reminds me of my sister’s when we were kids – my sister thought Arizona bordered on Illinois).  In this water-starved region, the farm has a special blessing: it rains there, only on the farm, every Monday at precisely one o’clock in the afternoon.

Polly’s kindly, science-nerd father – deeply involved with experiments to develop a cure-all medicine from the extracts of giant rhubarb – believes only in science; he cannot explain why it rains.  Polly’s loving mother believes in God – but she also cannot explain why it rains.  Polly believes in both science and God – but mostly she believes in magic.

And well she should!  On her farm there are rubies that sprout mysteriously from the ground, ivy plants that gently enfold and guide you with their leaves, talking crickets and intelligent dragonflies.  Polly is awkward and shy, and her best friend – until she meets a human boy with whom she shares great sympathy – is a rhubarb plant, with whom she holds lengthy conversations (though the rhubarb speaks via sign language).

Then one day it stops raining.  The farm, the rhubarb plants, the scientific research, the family’s very way of life is threatened.  Polly has to discover what to do – and there is the crux of our story.

This is a charming book.  The characters are warm and likeable.  Polly has a wonderful relationship with her parents, she adores her older brother (who is a star athlete and much more “normal” than Polly), and – although she and her strikingly beautiful older sister fight a good deal – their relationship is undergirded with loyalty and love.

Van Cleve has done an excellent job of creating an alternative world in which the magic farm interfaces with the normal life of a kid – school, classmates (who think Polly is weird – or does she only think they think she is weird?) – tourists who come to see the farm, pharmaceutical companies that may – or may not – support her father’s research.  Although much of the science is unbelievable, Van Cleve weaves a magic of her own that makes us – the reader – happily travel along with her.

Polly and her siblings attend a Catholic school – which is very favorably portrayed.  Polly makes the sign of the cross when she is blessing someone (such as her rhubarb friend), and her chief insight comes when she stops into a church to pray.  But this is not really a religious book – except in the sense that any book that envisions a good God and a universe in which good triumphs (eventually) over evil is a religious book.  It is a magical book, and a truly enjoyable one.

ISBN-13: 978-0142411131
Original Language: English
Book Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.2 x 1 inches

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Arthur Powers went to Brazil with the Peace Corps in 1969 and lived most his adult life in that country. From 1985 to 1992, he and his wife served with the Franciscan Friars in the Amazon, organizing rural workers’ unions and subsistence farmer groups in a region of violent land conflicts. Subsequently he directed Catholic Relief Services in Brazil. The Powers currently live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Mr. Powers received a Fellowship in Fiction from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, three annual awards for short fiction from the Catholic Press Association, and 2nd place in the 2008 Tom Howard Fiction Contest. In 2011, he was a finalist in the Press 53 Short Story Open Awards, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His short stories and poetry have appeared in America, Chicago Tribune Magazine, Christianty & Literature, Dappled Things, Dreams & Visions, Hiram Poetry Review, Kansas Quarterly, Liguorian, Prime Number, Roanoke Review, St. Anthony Messenger, South Carolina Review, Southern Poetry Review, Texas Quarterly, Windhover, Worcester Review, and many other magazines and anthologies.

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