The Year We Sailed the Sun

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Julia Delaney has a lot going on. She’s been shipped off to live with the Sisters of Mercy after losing her father, mother, the twins, and her grandmother. Sister Maclovius has an iron grip and a very tiny sense of humor. Her siblings, Bill and Mary, are almost adults and starting lives of their own which don’t seem to include her. Little Betty, a quirky fellow orphan, has attached herself to Julia. The St. Louis neighborhoods she’s lived in her whole life are rough and tumble places, with gang leaders and bribes and murders everyone knows about but no one can prove.

Julia is right smack dab in the middle of all of this, opening her mouth when she shouldn’t, running away, causing trouble of one kind or another, and thinking all the time. Trying to keep up with her internal monologue — filled with seemingly unimportant details about her life that come back to mean something big – is a little like talking to a six year old who likes stories and knows too many of them. There is always more there than you realize and it’s a challenge to keep it all straight.

There are action books and internally-focused character-driven books, but The Year We Sailed the Sun (Theresa Nelson) manages to be both without trying too hard. When I picked the book up, I was expecting a pioneer story of some kind, but the cover is really Julia’s dream rather than her reality. I wasn’t sorry to have my expectations toyed with by the end, though. Julia is a feisty, loving, difficult girl, but one you’d want to have on your side if you ended up at the Sisters of Mercy Industrial School and Girls’ Home.

The story is based on a real-life Julia, and I hope there’s more to come on her life.

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