In early 20th-century Minnesota, 14-year-old Martin Gunnarsson, a descendant of Scandinavian immigrants, is moving from the city to his family’s deserted farmland. A recent tragedy had left the Gunnarssons brokenhearted and with few funds. A fresh starts seemed ideal—to everyone except for Martin, who sorely missed his friends and school. However, Martin’s father went off to work for the winter, leaving his son in charge of the barren farm, his grieving mother, prickly though well-meaning great-aunt, and spirited little sister. When his father is unable to return for spring planting, Martin takes it upon himself to tackle the work alone.
A chance meeting with a Gypsy boy, Samson, changes Martin in many ways. The Roma people are outcasts and feared as vagrants by most of society—Martin’s great-aunt especially. Yet Samson displays nothing but loyalty, friendship and kindness, and is a great asset to the laborious work. Just as the planting is coming along, a devious banker threatens to foreclose on the farm. One shimmer of hope appears with the discovery of an old diary, written by Martin’s aunt, who died years before of diphtheria. A treasure, which was not named other than labeled a dowry, was said to be hidden somewhere on the land. As the situation became more desperate, Martin’s hopes of finding the means to keep the farm are bleak, although in the process he discovers invaluable life lessons and the true meaning of home.
This is a detailed, well-written and immersing read. The history behind the story is fascinating and will be of special interest to Minnesotans and anyone looking for a novel with a Little House on the Prairie feel. Young readers will particularly enjoy Martin’s characterization, as he picks his way through a hard year and pieces his family back together.
originally posted on Historical Novels Review