In my opinion, it completely deserves that shiny sticker. This is the first book to make me full-out cry in months. Not that that's my only way to measure a book's worth. Here's a short summary from Amazon:
After a life of riding the rails with her father, 12-year-old Abilene can’t understand why he has sent her away to stay with Pastor Shady Howard in Manifest, Missouri, a town he left years earlier; but over the summer she pieces together his story. In 1936, Manifest is a town worn down by sadness, drought, and the Depression, but it is more welcoming to newcomers than it was in 1918, when it was a conglomeration of coal-mining immigrants who were kept apart by habit, company practice, and prejudice. Abilene quickly finds friends and uncovers a local mystery. Their summerlong “spy hunt” reveals deep-seated secrets and helps restore residents’ faith in the bright future once promised on the town’s sign. Abilene’s first-person narrative is intertwined with newspaper columns from 1917 to 1918 and stories told by a diviner, Miss Sadie, while letters home from a soldier fighting in WWI add yet another narrative layer. Vanderpool weaves humor and sorrow into a complex tale involving murders, orphans, bootlegging, and a mother in hiding. With believable dialogue, vocabulary and imagery appropriate to time and place, and well-developed characters, this rich and rewarding first novel is “like sucking on a butterscotch. Smooth and sweet.”
When I first read a description of this novel I thought, "Typical Newbery format - historical fiction - child sent off to live somewhere unknown - uncovers secrets from past about family and learns about self." I wondered if this formula was getting a bit overdone and whether or not this would be any good.
Turns out my Newbery rule still holds true. I have yet to read one I haven't loved. LOVED. I wanted to adopt Abilene. I wanted to pack up and move to Manifest (which is saying a lot because back when Kansas and I were neighbors I wasn't all that impressed with the state). This story is so sweet and so emotional. It really brought history to life and left me moved and uplifted. We're told to seek out the best books and I can guarantee you that this is one of them.