Set on a Wisconsin farm around the turn of the twentieth century this book is similar to Caddie Woodlawn - but when Caddie ran off alone it was for a good cause, when this character (Garnet) goes off it is because of anger and there is no punishment ever spoken of. This book also de-bunks global warming since it says it is 110 degrees - in Wisconsin!
It was a time when electricity was available but not a given; an ice cream cone was a great treat and a nickel could buy a lot. $3.50 was a lot of money to win for the first prize animal in the fair. Kids helped their parents with all sorts of house and farm chores - without question.
Garnet is a nine and a half year old girl with two brothers. Jay is a few years older and Donald is much younger. She has a strong sense of community. She enjoys spending time with her brother or Citronella, the girl who lives next door. Sometimes Garnet and Citronella listen to her great-grandmother (Garnet calls her Mrs. Eberhardt) tell stories of her youth or the two girls go into town. They'd start out walking but someone always came along to give the a ride. In this time period it appears that rides were common enough and not in the least bit dangerous.
Mrs. Eberhardt tells the story of her tenth birthday when, after saving up money from extra chores, her father was going to take her into Blaiseville to buy a bracelet she'd had her eye on. Something came up and he couldn't take her so she stewed about it all day until after dinner when she and her brother were getting berries. She abandoned him and walked into town only to find the bracelet already sold. On the way back it was getting dark and she was accosted and robbed. Worse yet, when she got home she discovered her brother, whom she'd abandoned, had not returned. Turns out her dad had got the bracelet on his errand but saved it for Christmas.
Garnet's family had some money issues. When Garnet brought in the mail, she and her other often conspired to hide the bills from her father until after supper. They were also worried about the barn collapsing and got a government loan to build a new one.
This was a community event. They used a kiln in the forest to make "...lime for cement, for plaster and for whitewash." Citronella's two oldest brothers tended the kiln all day and Garnet's dad and Mr. Freebody at night. One night Garnet and Jay go along. During the night, Mr. Freebody's dog, Major, begins to growl and someone comes out of the woods. He is described as, "a boy, hardly older than Jay" who "walked crookedly and suddenly lurched forward, half falling to the ground". (p. 43) At first I thought it was a drunk but he turned out to be just a hungry orphan. Garnet's family takes him in and he becomes like another brother. At times Garnet is a bit jealous of the time she loses with Jay but never takes it out on the Eric.
Perhaps it is a part of those unresolved jealous feelings though that lead Garnet on her greatest adventure with only a minor sense of danger. "As she's hitch-hiking away the lady in the car says, 'Seems to me like you're pretty young to be hitch-hiking,...If I was your mama, I don't think I'd like it much'." (p. 79) She traveled eighteen miles from home.
When she returned home she was greeted by Mr. Freebody. He is a long time family friend who knew Garnet's parents when they were little, and he is the only one who knew she was gone - each parent thought she was with the other. He advises her to hold off on giving the presents she bought for everyone on her escape, and he hides the hen for a couple of days until it is time to tell. As he explains it, "And if I was you I wouldn't say nothing about your little jaunt for the time being - no sense in getting your mama upset now that you've been and done it." (p. 99) When she sees Jay at dinner they forgot all about the fight they'd had and made plans to go into town for a concert, and invite Eric.
The eighth and ninth chapters, 27 pages of the 136 (20%) are dedicated to the fair with the tenth chapter (about four and a half pages) polishing things up. If you've never been to a fair or rodeo it might be a little more difficult to envision but does not detract from the enjoyment.