Whoever over at Atheneum got the blurbie from Richard Peck needs to be commended. He’s quoted on the cover: “Miss Spitfire is high drama about how language unlocks the world.” That sums it up so concisely and eloquently. However, while I do believe that the book is about language, I connected with it on a more personal level. Specifically, I connected with Annie Sullivan’s character: strong, willful, intelligent, stubborn, sensitive, determined. Given her history at Tewksbury and with her family’s dysfunction, could you even call Annie Sullivan damaged? I was caught up in the human struggle for connection and communication, the need for love, acceptance, and family.
Miller does a masterful job here because she takes those timeless, universal human struggles and puts them in the context of Annie Sullivan trying to teach Helen Keller. So even though I am far removed from that world and that time period, I still felt such a deep connection with everything and everyone in the story. Miller creates delicious tension in holding back that moment where Helen has her breakthrough at the water pump. I’m a novice when it comes to this story, but I do know all about that water pump moment, as most people do. So by holding back that one recognizable moment, Miller keeps you turning pages in anticipation for the happy ending we all know so well.
Sarah Miller has a really beautiful writing style:
By nightfall my body thrums with exhilaration. If I'd ever seen a child born, it couldn't compare to what happened at the pump today. Helen opened before my eyes, and whatever it is that makes us human flowed into her as if I'd poured it from my own hands.
I just loved that passage. Annie Sullivan's anger, frustration, and love become such palpable things to the extent that sometimes you feel like you're banging your own head against the wall. Which is a good thing.
I’ve always loved the quote “A life well-lived is the best revenge.” And I found myself thinking of that as I read Miss Spitfire. For Annie to survive everything she went through, to thrive amidst the struggle and fight, to have success and love and family in her life…that always makes for a dramatic and passionate story. And Sarah Miller has told it skillfully and eloquently.
Note: Just make sure that you have Helen Keller: Her Life in Pictures in hand after you read this one - you'll want to look at the real life pictures of all these marvelous characters.
Other reviews of Miss Spitfire: Fuse #8, Becky's Book Reviews, Greetings from Nowhere, and read an interview with the author at Miss Erin.