The story is told by Katy Thatcher, an old woman in 1987, about a critical period in her life from 1908 to 1911. Katy, whose father is a doctor, takes an interest in Jacob, a boy from a neighboring farm, who can't speak, who sings quietly to himself, but who seems able to communicate with animals. Jacob occasionally comes to the Thatcher home to be in the barn with the animals. Katy comes to feel she can communicate with him in a rudimentary but sympathetic way.

When the live-in housekeeper next door, sister to the Thatcher's housekeeper, has a baby out of wedlock, Jacob, aware of the trouble, abducts and brings the baby to the Thatcher's house on a stormy night, hoping, Katy believes, to save it the way he has saved orphaned lambs by bringing them to a substitute mother. But the baby dies of exposure and Jacob is taken to a mental institution. Katy becomes a doctor.


Lois Lowry's many awards testify to her gifts at storytelling and her compassionate imagination. Each chapter of this book is accompanied by a black and white reproduction of a period photograph which helps to situate the characters in the very specific historical moment evoked. Katy's point of view is realistic and intelligent; interspersed with the main story line are episodes that develop her relationship with a pregnant mother, her love of books and story, and her curiosities about her father's medical practice, and her friendship with the local boy who eventually becomes her husband.

Simply told and engaging, the story handles the final tragedy with gentle clarity. Jacob's condition is never named; we come to understand its nature entirely by means of Katy's observations. A poignant bit of medical history imbedded in a personal story. A book that may help young people reflect on the humanity of those suffering from mental illness that prevents them from giving and receiving love and understanding in ordinary ways.


Houghton Mifflin

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