Hannah lives on a dairy farm during the Great Depression. Times are hard, but the family is holding on, with enough spare money to buy some new equipment. Hannah’s one-room school is looking forward to a visit from a charity organization, hoping that money will be donated to improve the school building. Instead, Mrs. Sweet, the woman sent by the charity organization focuses all of her attention on Hannah. Although Hannah has struggled with reading her entire life, mathematics have always come easily, and it is this talent that earns her a sudden chance at a scholarship. Mrs. Sweet offers to host Hannah at her own home while she studies for the scholarship examination.
Hannah’s not entirely sure she wants this opportunity, which will take her far from everyone and everything she knows, but in the end she decides to go to the city. While there she makes friends with other scholarship children staying with Mrs. Sweet. Homesickness, however, is never far away, and Hannah has to wonder: is all of this worth it? Especially since she knows that, however good her math skills are, she’s just not a good reader?
This historical fiction novel by Adele Griffin worked well. The viewpoints of the characters were consistent for the time period: some adults support her, others think women don’t need mathematics in their lives. It was refreshing to see a story of this type that did not have any sudden magical achievements. Hannah does not learn to read overnight because of some trick a friend or teacher comes up with. All of her problems are not solved by going to the city, but neither are all of her problems solved when she returns home for a visit. The awkward transition from child to adolescent, and from farmgirl to city dweller, is artfully shown, seeming at times that there is not place where she now fits in. Although it is never discussed in those terms, as befits the time period, Hannah almost certainly has obsessive-compulsive disorder. She considers her tapping and counting just a regular part of her life, for the most part, and, beyond occasionally commenting that the sound is annoying, so do most of the others in her life.