In 1934 Maine, the Great Depression overwhelms 12-year-old Ellie and her family with displacement and poverty. Forced to leave their stable and relatively prosperous life in town, the family seek sustenance and shelter in the wild forests of nearby Echo Mountain. There, Ellie and her father enjoy the natural world and revel in their new activities, even as Ellie’s mother and older sister Esther long for their old life. Young Samuel is oblivious to the transition.
Ellie is aware she is “odd in many ways” and that her peculiarity is tied to the flame that burns brightly inside her, a flame accompanied by a voice prompting her to seek healing for injured creatures and wounded people alike.
When Ellie’s father is hurt, leaving him in a coma, Ellie is devastated to realize that her mother and Esther blame her for the accident. The rift that was forming between them because of their differing perceptions of life on the mountain intensifies.
Ellie refuses to sit idly by. Instead, she listens “to that voice, that flame in my chest as it suddenly (rises) again, bright and wordless as the sun.” She tries different remedies to wake up her father, then takes the risk of climbing the mountain to visit a woman known as “the hag” to discover her knowledge of healing arts. What and whom she finds there forever changes her and her family.
In this wonderfully gentle and emotionally rich novel, author Lauren Wolk gives middle school readers a sense of the hardships faced by people in the Great Depression, an enlightening window into the difficulties encountered by a girl claiming and tentatively exercising her unusual gift, and a glimpse of the renewal and hope people can experience when prejudice, blame, and animosity are replaced with acceptance, forgiveness, and love. (Dutton Books for Young Readers)