Debut author Stephanie J. Blake has written an appealing middle-grade novel about a heroine with an unusual name: Freedom Jane McKenzie. It's 1959, and Freedom is a tomboy through and through. She'd rather be playing marbles with the boys than engaging in more lady-like pursuits like tea parties and playing with Barbies. She dreams of winning the annual marble competition at the Autumn Jubilee, but it's not clear her mother will even let her enter, since her mom thinks marbles aren't proper for young girls. It's not easy growing up, particularly when your best friend (a boy, of course) doesn't want to have anything to do with you anymore, since he's getting teased for being friends with a girl. And on top of everything, your parents are constantly arguing over your dad's drinking. With her mother pregnant, Freedom has to take on plenty of chores at home, but still finds time to befriend the scary old lady who's their neighbor. Mrs. Zierk soon turns out to be the one person who has time to listen to Freedom, and soon is teaching her piano and jam-making.
Will Freedom become the Marble Queen, or will she have to give up her marbles and become a different person now that she's growing older?
This is a well-written story for 8-12 year olds; told with a humorous voice in the first person, the novel offers us an engaging heroine, a girl with plenty of spunk who we'd like living in our neighborhood. The author provides plenty of historical details about the era, including the building of bomb shelters, the novelty of television, having sundaes at the dime store, and the introduction of Barbie, among others, to give the book an authentic feel for the era. She also recreates effectively the pace of life at that period, when children roamed around their neighborhoods during the summer and after school without their parents fearing for their safety.
Freedom is a character I'd like to hear more from in the future.