I Love Lucy Whipple

Lucy Whipple is not her real name. She was born California Sunshine Whipple — sister to Butte, Sierra, and Prairie Whipple — but upon arriving in Lucky Diggins, California in the 1850s, she renames herself Lucy instead. I met her in the book The Ballad of Lucy Whipple by Karen Cushman, and now I love her. I am hoping Miss Cushman will write a sequel because I want to know her even better.

I had seen two of Miss Cushman’s other books —  The Midwife’s Apprentice and Catherine, Called Birdy — many times, prominently displayed at Borders and at Barnes and Noble. Their beautiful cover art drew my attention,  but I am not a great fan of reading about medieval times, so I passed them by. What I am drawn to is stories about life on the prairie and in the Old West, so the minute I saw Lucy’s smock and boots and the mountains behind her, I was hooked. The intelligent expression on her face and the fact that she was clutching a book to her chest only made her more appealing.

While we’re talking about the lure of cover art, here’s the original cover of The Ballad of Lucy Whipple. I don’t think it would have made as much of an impression on me as the new cover did.

Funny — it’s the opposite of the Little House cover debacle; in this case, I prefer the more photographic-looking image of Lucy.

Anyway, once I got past the cover art and started reading, I discovered that Lucy is smart and funny in a droll, ironic way. She’s sensitive but not syrupy. She’s strong. She thinks — a lot. She works hard. She deals with whatever life throws at her, including: a dead father; a mother whose life vision is quite different from her own; a dirty, smelly Gold Rush town full of quirky, drunken prospectors; sickness; and a longing for her old home back East that she can’t seem to shake.

The novel follows Lucy’s path of self-actualization, and as she learns who she is, we learn right along with her. I never knew what Lucy was going to do next or where she’d wind up, but I always knew that I wanted to stay with her. After I read the last page, I was sad for days, looking at the closed book on my night table, knowing that I had finished it — finished her.

I love Lucy Whipple. If you haven’t met her, please get her book and do so. Tell her I said hello. And, Karen Cushman, if you’re reading this, please bring Lucy back to me.

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2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    sgaissert said,

    I am very excited because Karen Cushman read this post and wrote a comment. She left the comment on my “Who I Am” page, but I’m copying it here:

    I did indeed read your words and thank you most sincerely for your generosity to Lucy and to me. I have no plans for a sequel at this time. Readers often ask me–especially librarians–but I have so many ideas to pursue first. You might try reading Rodzina who passes through the west on a train in search of a new home. And thank you again. We writers are so beholden to people like you.

    Miss Cushman sounds very nice, doesn’t she?

  2. 2

    Dakotagirl said,

    Thanks for the post Susan. I too like the new cover than the older one. The older one reminds me of the American Gothic painting.

    I will definitely look for this book. Like you, I enjoy stories of the Old West and prairie life.

    Thanks for such an interesting blog Susan, I don’t often post, but I do drop by several times a week to check out your posts.


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