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Reviewed by Paul F. Murray for Readers' Favorite
Eleanor Hill by Lisa Williams Kline is a wonderful, engaging and gripping novel about a 12-year-old girl growing into her teenage years during the decade of the 1910s, and wanting a better life than the limited existence possible to her in the isolated fishing village of Atlantic Grove, North Carolina. Eleanor is especially close to her brother, Frank, a young adult who, like Eleanor, wants something better than a fisherman’s difficult and limited existence as exemplified by their father, John Hill, who is content with his life and ridicules anyone whom he thinks would want something more. Without permission, Eleanor runs away from home to live with her Aunt Velma and Uncle Owen so that she can attend high school in New Bern, NC. Inspired by a former teacher, Miss Rosalie, who was fired for being a bit too liberal for the parents of Atlantic Grove—Miss Rosalie believes that women should have the right to vote—Eleanor decides that she is going to be an “independent woman” who will either not marry or who will marry for love, not because she needs a man for a meal ticket.
Eleanor dreams of seeing the big wide world outside of Atlantic Grove, and she gets her wish when she has to take a trip to San Francisco to visit her ailing brother, Frank, along with her close friend, Virgie Mae, who is herself maturing out of adolescence as entrance into World War I looms for America. Frank has made some mistakes in life and has piled up gambling debts, on top of his health problems. As all of this is happening, Eleanor is discovering that domineering Aunt Velma is not the means to independence that she, Eleanor, had thought. Aunt Velma is determined that Eleanor will marry a rich, spoiled young man aspiring to be a doctor, while Eleanor—her independent streak showing—falls in love with a young Italian immigrant man who Aunt Velma disapproves of because he is probably (horrors!) Catholic. All the while, Eleanor learns to appreciate how even an isolated fishing village such as Atlantic Grove fits well into the wider world.
The novel was extremely well-written, with good grammar and a traditional third-person viewpoint. I have been reading books for over 50 years, and I have to say that Eleanor Hill by Lisa Williams Kline is one of the top five books that I have ever had the pleasure of reading, out of the hundreds of novels that I have read since the 1960s. It is true literature, going way beyond the usual girl-meets-boy teen romance. This novel is way more than that by far. Young readers—female and male—can learn important life lessons from this poignant story. Girls can learn to value education and life experiences, and boys can do the same and can profit from reading about Frank’s mistakes. This novel is worthy of every award that it wins. It is the sort of novel that when readers come to the end, they will want to go back to the beginning right away and start re-reading it.