Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon

Set in rural England in 1831, Nell Leyshon's The Colour of Milk is a journal in the fierce voice of a fifteen-year-old narrator who has just learned her letters. Mary is the youngest of four daughters on a farm. In spite of being born lame, she is the only one in her family who is always in good cheer. Her constant chatter does not sit well with her dour parents, but Mary works just as hard as her sisters.

"this is my book and i am writing it by my own hand."

"i want to tell you what it is that happened but i must be ware not to rush at it like the heifers at the gate for if i do that i will get ahead of my self so quick that i will trip and fall and anyway you will want me to start where a person ought to.

and that is at the beginning."

The event that Mary records in her own hand begins when she is sent to be a servant at the nearby vicarage. I was captivated by her voice and immersed in her life right through to the shocking finish. The story is short (under 200 pages) and unforgettable.

Readalikes: Year of Wonders (Geraldine Brooks); Alias Grace (Margaret Atwood); and Harvest (Jim Crace).

The Colour of Milk is an adult novel (suitable for age 15 and up), but the character Mary reminded me of Meggy, the sharp-tongued (and much grumpier) disabled character in a children's book, Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman. Cushman has other historical novels for young people that would enjoyable for adult readers, including Catherine Called Birdy and The Midwife's Apprentice.

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