Tuesday, June 29, 2010


A new press in northern Vermont, Radiant Hen, is bringing out a children's mystery this summer, available any day now ... and it's the third book by acclaimed Vermont author Marion Page, published posthumously. SEARCHING FOR HANNERESTER captures the sheltered rural life of the 1950s in the north woods, when hardscrabble farms provided a lean but honorable living to families who might never consider taking a trip to a city even in Vermont, let alone out of state. At age 14, Carrie Stafford has little idea of how town life operates, or even of her own past -- she lives with her father, her mother died long ago, and the "hired woman" who's been raising her, Hannah Esther Dunney, has vanished without explanation. Carrie's father isn't the sort to waste words on explaining anything to her, either; he has his hands full with caring for his animals and barn, and expects Carrie to shoulder "Hannerester's" former homemaking tasks, as well as barn help after school each day. Here's the opening of the first chapter:
When Carrie first realized Hannerester was gone, she was not scared, she was just plain mad. The scared part came later.
She’d gotten off the school bus at the turn-around and trudged home in swirling snow, thinking only of the fresh, warm bread she hoped Hannerester was baking. But the windows in the farmhouse were dark. The shadows gather early in Vermont in December, and Hannerester should have been in the kitchen with the lamp lit, starting supper.
Carrie went in, stamping snow from her feet. “Hannerester?” She called, but she could tell by the chill in the house that it was empty. She scraped ashes out of the firebox and laid a fire, banging the stove-lids and grumbling to herself. “Seems like I’m the hired girl around here instead of her. Serve her right if a bear eats her.”
As winter isolates the farm further, suspicion begins to fasten on Carrie's father. Could he have killed Hannerester, the way some people say he killed his wife? Does he abuse Carrie? She has bruises ... and who will people believe, one poor girl from a lame old farm, or the minister's manipulative daughter Naomi Ruth? Carrie gets trapped into covering for Naomi Ruth's misdeeds, as well as trying to figure out the truth about her family, in the midst of a blizzard of misinformation.

Marion Page, whose earlier books (also set in earlier days in Vermont) were Dirty Mary No More and The Printer's Devil, creates a quiet coming-of-age novel as Carrie presses beyond her limits in order to clear her father and rescue him from arrest. But can she find Hannerester? Is she even alive? What can Carrie do to cope with the threats of both the gathering rumors and the winter woods, and will anyone help her?

A fluidly written, richly dramatic, memorable novel with a delicious old-time flavor, SEARCHING FOR HANNERESTER will delight readers who "remember" life before the Internet, even before private phone lines and casually accepted indoor plumbing. And it will also be a very special adventure for young readers with the patience and curiosity to explore how different life was, only two generations back, in the most secluded and protected parts of New England.

Hearty thanks to Radiant Hen for bringing this nearly lost novel to press.

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