Mr. Samuel’s Penny by Treva Hall Melvin (2014)
When 14-year-old Elizabeth Landers arrives in the small town of Ahoskie, North Carolina, she fully expects to have a boring vacation. Things turn out very differently that summer in 1972 almost as soon as Elizabeth and her sister arrive.
A grisly car accident catches the town’s attention and Elizabeth is at the scene when the bodies of Mr. Samuel and his young daughter are recovered. Mr. Samuel is clutching an unusual 1909 wheat penny in his hand—a penny that is stolen from the sheriff’s office.
Already interested in pennies herself and haunted by the crime scene, the protagonist decides to use part of her summer trying to find the penny for Mr. Samuel’s widow.
Melvin walks the line between adult nostalgia and the authentic voice of a teen throughout this novel that is set to start a new series. Unfortunately, the narrative never seems entirely comfortable with either tone.
Numerous biblical analogies and references to Christianity lend a decidedly non-secular tone to the entire novel. Elizabeth is still an approachable narrator, who will find her fans in certain readers.
*A slightly different version of this review appeared in an issue issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online*