At thirteen, Clair's mother has died, her father has withdrawn, and she suddenly stops speaking. Uncertain what to do with or for her, her father, a pastor, opts for complete change and follows his own dream, leaving an upscale suburban parish for a remote one among the rural poor in the northern Michigan woods. Furious, Clair strikes a deal with him that if she doesn't like it in six months, they'll return.

In the course of that time, while her father builds new kinds of relationships and trust among the local people, Clair discovers and becomes friends with a girl her age who lives mostly alone in a makeshift shelter, avoiding the attentions of her laissez-faire chain-smoking grandmother and, more importantly, her violent father who is temporarily in prison and therefore unable to hurt her.

From this girl, Dorrie, Clair learns a great deal about survival, both physical and psychological, and ultimately, surprised by an emergency into the necessity, learns to speak again. As the six months draw to a close, she finds her sisterly bond with Dorrie, whom her father has invited to live with them, and a growing appreciation of the natural setting and local people have made her not only willing, but eager to stay and make a new life where she is.


Dorrie, survivor of domestic violence and inventive raider of dumps, is a particularly memorable character in this sensitively written, surprising story. There is little comment on or speculation about Clair's condition, except the ways in which her own feelings give it credibility and make it possible for readers to empathize.

It seems clear that she cannot (rather than will not) speak, but it also seems clear that both her inner life and her capacity for relationship are fully intact. And Dorrie's capacity for acceptance offers a portrait of caregiving well worth reflecting on. A good read for both young people and their parents, especially in the wake of loss.


First published 1979 (New York: Putnam)


Eerdmans Books

Place Published

Grand Rapids, Mich.



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