Bee is an orphan who lives with a carnival and sleeps in the back of a tractor trailer. Every day she endures taunts for the birthmark on her face—though her beloved Pauline, the only person who has ever cared for her, tells her it is a precious diamond. When Pauline is sent to work for another carnival, Bee is lost. Then a scruffy dog shows up, as unwanted as she, and Bee realizes that she must find a home for them both. She runs off to a house with gingerbread trim that reminds her of frosting. There two mysterious women, Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter, take her in. They clothe her, though their clothes are strangely out of date. They feed her, though there is nothing in their house to eat. They help her go to school, though they won't enter the building themselves. And, strangely, only Bee seems able to see them. Whoever these women are, they matter. They matter to Bee. And they are helping Bee realize that she, too, matters to the world--if only she will let herself be a part of it. This tender novel beautifully captures the pain of isolation, the healing power of community, and the strength of the human spirit.
Bee is an orphan living and working with a traveling carnival who bears a large, diamond-shaped birthmark on her cheek. She has learned to hide it as best she can, but cannot help but understand that she is an outcast the carnival owner wants to eventually use in one of his 'freak shows.' She longs for a home and family, and a series of events, some supernatural, end up leading her there.
What struck me immediately in this story was Bee's voice; it is strong and vibrant in spite of her fears and insecurities. In a rush, 12-year-old thoughts and feelings came back to me, and everything she longed for and cared about became my own. Her love of swimming holes and sharing stories with her friend Pauline, her ability to notice the good and bad in people, her immediate love for a stray dog, all blended together to perfectly encompass what it felt like to be a tween. Pair that with her 'deformity' and it makes her stage in life heartbreaking, even tragic. My heart longed for a home for her--longed for her to feel what it means to belong. My heart remembered that need, and my heart broke thinking of the cruelty she and others like her, who are 'different,' must endure, made even harder at that deeply insecure stage of life.
Bee's triumphs and disappointments from following her heart and learning to fend for herself after she loses the security and protection of a friend lead her to some unlikely 'guardian angels.' Her "aunts," as she calls them--Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter--can be seen by only herself and her dog. They help her to live on her own and conquer, one by one, the difficult tasks of making new friends, going to school, and learning to release her fear of the stares of strangers. Set in 1942, with World War II as the backdrop, this is a book that should be required reading for tweens! I don't think it will escape the notice of teachers and the academic community as a book worthy of many awards and accolades. Do not let it escape your notice, either.