As the Great Depression affects her family's finances, Esther must adapt to life on a farm while she worries about her mother's superstitions and whether or not her mother truly loves her. Esther is the daughter of a German father and a Russian mother, and is one of five children. Esther lives in the city, and enjoys going to the movies and reading. She also worries about why her mother doesn't express her affection through hugs and kisses, and is sometimes annoyed at her mother's constant superstitions. When the Great Depression hits, many people are affected. Pa loses his job, and decides to take them to live on a farm. He knows the trade and believes it will be easier. Esther's eldest sister is married, and remains in the city with her husband. Her second-eldest sister is employed, and so also stays with their sister and brother-in-law. The other three siblings go with their parents to the country-side.
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Esther quickly discovers how different farm-life is from the city. Water comes from a pump, there are more chores to do, and nothing is as fancy. But she also comes to love life on the farm. She also enjoys the local school, which is different from the city with multiple grades per classroom, but where she nonetheless able to excel and make a wonderful friend named Bethany. One day, however, her mother meets Bethany at a community event, and her mother's superstitions collide with Esther's common sense. Her mother believes Bethany is not a good person to be her friend due to a mole on Bethany's face that supposedly indicates danger. Esther is torn. She does not wish to disobey her mother, but she also doesn't want to lose her friend either. Feeling very guilty, Esther continues their friendship in secret - without telling Bethany about her mother's decision. When her mother discovers it, she is furious, and Esther is forced to explain and break off their friendship.
Several weeks later, the family goes to a community picnic. While they are eating lunch, Esther chokes. Bethany, who is sitting nearby, is the first one to notice something is wrong. She saves Esther's life by drawing attention to her plight so that her father can shake the food clear. Esther's mother realizes that in this case at least, her superstition was wrong.
Life continues on as usual, and Bethany and Esther's friendship returns to normal. They plan for a school play, and support each other at school. Then Esther becomes sick. She is sent to the city to live with her sisters, brother in law, and newborn nephew. She doesn't have the opportunity to say goodbye to Bethany. Her family has not done well that year either, and returns to the city after Bethany is well. Although Esther cannot go back to see Bethany, not all is lost: her family has brought a letter from Bethany, and they can continue to write back and forth.
As the book closes, Esther realizes a few things. The first one is that maybe it's ok not to believe in all her mother's superstitions. Not everyone does, and Esther, not her mother, was after all right about Bethany. The second is that hugs and kisses are not the only way to show affection. Her parents show they love her in much more important ways: through their actions. They are there to support her and each other, and they do their best to keep their family together.
Best part of story, including ending:
Esther realizes important things about how people show that they really love each other, and about her mother's superstitions not always being correct.
Best scene in story:
At the end of the book, the family sits down together, including the sisters, brother-in-law, and new nephew, for a Thanksgiving dinner they hadn't really had the previous difficult year on the farm. During this time, Esther makes her important realizations about actions speaking louder than words.
Opinion about the main character:
When she realizes that actions speak louder than words in relationships with others, and when she decides for herself what she thinks about her mother's superstitions, Esther takes a step towards grows up.