Melinda Takes a Hand by Patricia Beatty
William Morrow & Co, 1st printing, 1983
Genre: Children’s literature
Synopsis & Review: Thirteen-year old Melinda Carpenter was endowed with generous horse sense, so when her older sister Sarah Jane plans to travel from Chicago to San Francisco to marry her fiancé Edgar Everett Potter III, their aunt and uncle send Melinda along to represent the family and keep an eye on Sarah Jane. But upon their arrival in Goldendale, Colorado to meet his parents, the letter waiting for Sarah Jane so upsets her that she breaks off the engagement right there and then. To protect Sarah Jane and give her some time, Melinda first cables Edgar Everett Potter III with news that Sarah Jane has run off with a train conductor, then cables her aunt and uncle to tell them that Edgar Everett Potter III drowned at sea. Rather than return to Chicago as an object of scorn, Sarah Jane decides to stay in Goldendale, and Melinda stays with her. To earn their keep, Sarah Jane begins housekeeping for a local judge, while Melinda acts as his dog-catcher. Though Goldendale is a tiny town of the Wild West and can’t hold a candle to the Chicago of the World’s Fair, Melinda finds plenty in Goldendale to keep her busy, from errant Great Danes to English lords and their castle, and county seat politics to school bullies. The summer I was nine, I read several highly enjoyable, very amusing books by the same author, books about spunky girls of the West in the late nineteenth century, but I forgot all about them until a few years ago. Unfortunately, by that time not only had I forgotten the author’s name, but I’d forgotten the titles as well; all I had left were a few vague plot details: a girl named Lacy, a quilt pattern involving seven distinct reds (none Turkey red!), a castle rebuilt on the prairie. And the old Hollywood Library is no longer there, so I couldn’t just wander the shelves of the Children’s Section looking for something familiar. During my spate of book-finding a few weeks ago, I went through the Multnomah County Library catalog, looking for anything with a keyword that matched up. My searches all came up empty, and I turned to The Google, and then to WorldCat, where lo and behold, after eleven pages of juvenile fiction about quilting, I found O the Red Rose Tree by Patricia Beatty (the seven distinct reds), and I was off and running. Sadly, the MCL has since divested themselves of most of Patricia Beatty’s decidedly voluminous catalog, but they had Melinda Takes a hand (featuring the aforementioned castle rebuilt on the prairie), so I checked it out. (One of the datestamps still inside is even for the right time period as when I originally read it, which tickles me to no end.)
I was rewarded for all my efforts with a delightful comic adventure of a modern city girl (it is 1893, after all!) transplanted to the still wild West. Melinda’s voice is brisk, genuine, and engaging, as is her interest in everything going on around her. Other characters are a bit flat, but Melinda’s highly-colored exploits will amuse. Beatty’s research allows her to capture a period feel for the setting and Melinda. The book also features some fascinating historical details about such diverse subjects as county politics, Jews on the frontier, European expatriates in the West, and more.
Highly recommended for the nine to twelve bracket, especially those into dynamic female protagonists, Western history, or comic misadventures. I’ve purchased two of her other novels, and will be looking for this one, too.
Cover: Amusing picture of Melinda and company being dragged by Edward Gideon. The illustration wraps around to the back cover. Cute.
The Goldendale kids who passed were curious about me. I stuck out like a sore thumb because I wasn’t in school. A yellow-haired girl in a white dress came out of a store next to the hotel. She stared at me as she went by, then hurries on ahead to catch up to a girl with long, red braids who was walking down the middle of the street. A big, black-haired boy in blue-and-white-striped bib overalls went past with two other big boys. Oh, how he stared at me! I felt like sticking my tongue out at him because I don’t like being gawked at, but before I could do anything, another boy punched him in the ribs and said, “Come on, Stump! It’s only a girl.” What a name! Stump!
I figured part of the attention I was getting was due to the way I was dressed. My white Eton suit, straw hat with blue ribbons, and white high-top shoes were fine for Chicago. But the girls in Goldendale wore cotton pinafores and black shoes.
22 July – 23 July