Cover image for Small mercies
Title:
Small mercies
ISBN:
9781946395160
Edition:
First edition.
Physical Description:
223 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Reading Level:
820 Lexile.
Added Author:
Summary:
Mercy lives in modern-day Pietermaritzburg, South Africa with her eccentric foster aunts-two elderly sisters so poor, they can only afford one lightbulb. A nasty housing developer is eying their house. And that same house suddenly starts falling apart-just as Aunt Flora starts falling apart. She's forgetting words, names, and even how to behave in public. Mercy tries to keep her head down at school so nobody notices her. But when a classmate frames her for stealing the school's raffle money, Mercy's teachers decide to take a closer look at her home life. Along comes Mr. Singh, who rents the back cottage of the house on Hodson Road. When he takes Mercy to visit a statue in the middle of the city, she learns that the shy, nervous "Mohandas" he tells stories about is actually Gandhi, who spent a cold and lonely night in the waiting room of the Pietermaritzburg train station over a hundred years ago. It marked the beginning of his life's quest for truthand the visit to his statue marks Mercy's realization that she needs-just like Gandhi-to stand up for herself. Mercy needs a miracle. But to summon that miracle, she has to find her voice and tell the truth-and that truth is neither pure nor simple.
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Summary

Summary

Mercy lives in modern-day Pietermaritzburg, South Africa with her eccentric foster aunts--two elderly sisters so poor, they can only afford one lightbulb. A nasty housing developer is eying their house. And that same house suddenly starts falling apart--just as Aunt Flora starts falling apart. She's forgetting words, names, and even how to behave in public. Mercy tries to keep her head down at school so nobody notices her. But when a classmate frames her for stealing the school'sraffle money, Mercy's teachers decide to take a closer look at her home life.

Along comes Mr. Singh, who rents the back cottage of the house on Hodson Road. When he takes Mercy to visit a statue in the middle of the city, she learns that the shy, nervous "Mohandas" he tells stories about is actually Gandhi, who spent a cold and lonely night in the waiting room of the Pietermaritzburg train station over a hundred years ago. It marked the beginning of his life's quest for truth...and the visit to his statue marks Mercy's realization that she needs--just like Gandhi--to stand up for herself.

Mercy needs a miracle. But to summon that miracle, she has to find her voice and tell the truth--and that truth is neither pure nor simple.


Author Notes

Bridget Krone lives and works in a village called Hilton just outside Pietermaritzburg, in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains in South Africa. Her office looks onto a field where cows graze in the winter and cranes (both crowned and blue) visit in the summer. She has spent most of her working life writing short novels and English language text books for school children in South Africa. Her favorite stories are those that, just when you expect a lesson, sing a song instead. Karen Vermeulen is an illustrator, designer, art director, and writer living in Cape Town, South Africa. She has designed the majority of Catalyst Press's book covers. She works from a corner of her small flat, her desk facing Table Mountain. She loves humor, stories, patterns and color. Her cat (Sir Henry) loves walking over Her keyboard and lying on top of her drawings while she tries to work.


Reviews 3

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4 Up--In contemporary Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Mercy Adams lives in fear of a social worker appearing at her doorstep and taking her away from Aunt Flora and Aunt Mary, the two elderly sisters who have been her foster mothers since she was very young. To outsiders, she knows their life wouldn't be considered "normal"--Aunt Mary never hesitates to write Mercy absurd excuses to get out of her sixth grade responsibilities ("she has a bone in her leg," a cross country excuse reads), their ramshackle house is falling apart, and worst of all, Aunt Flora's memory has started to fade due to Alzheimer's. When a housing developer makes aggressive attempts to buy their house, Aunt Mary declines the offer and instead takes in a lodger, Mr. Singh, to raise some extra money. Mr. Singh tells Mercy stories about his "friend," Mohandas (Gandhi), that teach her to appreciate the unforeseeable significance of small acts in building a better world. Mercy is a winning protagonist who is by turns anxious, observant, and brave. South Africa is represented in its diversity: Mercy is mixed race, her aunts are white, and neighbors, classmates, and community members are from a range of racial and cultural backgrounds. Short, episodic chapters in the book's first half build to an emotionally compelling conclusion that is rich in insights about community, family, and social action. VERDICT This novel has a gentle, timeless feel, complex secondary characters, and quirky humor. A heartfelt, human, and wise addition to middle grade shelves.--Elizabeth Giles, Lubuto Library Partners, Zambia


Publisher's Weekly Review

Mercy, a dark-skinned child, lives in modern-day South Africa with her foster mothers, two eccentric elderly sisters who took her in after her mother's death, when she was five. Mercy has been safe and comfortable in the years with Aunt Mary and Aunt Flora, but financial woes, Flora's worsening Alzheimer's, and a pushy real-estate developer determined to turn their property into cluster housing plague the family, leaving Mercy fearful that she'll be taken from her home. With the support of her community, Mercy finds the courage to share her fears and ask for help. Mercy's foster mothers have a clear distrust of government systems, teaching Mercy to be wary of people such as social workers, opting instead to rely on self-advocacy, friends, and neighbors for support. Characters of all ages populate this debut's pages, but, disappointingly, the children are less engaging and memorable than the adults, whose big personalities jump colorfully off the page. There are skillful moments in which Krone touches on themes, such as belonging and connection, with brilliant clarity. Ultimately, though, too many subjects, from the state of the foster care system to environmentalism and the plight of bees, vie for attention, lessening the overall effect of the narrative. Ages 8--12. (Feb.)


Kirkus Review

Set in post-apartheid Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, this realistic story traces protagonist Mercy's quest to speak up for truth and, consequently, for herself. Eleven-year-old Mercy has lived with her two elderly foster mothers"Aunt Flora" and "Aunt Mary" McKnightsince she was orphaned at the age of 5. Although their home is filled with love, the McKnight sisters are so poor that they reuse tea bags as many as four to five times and most of the furniture has been sold. To make matters worse, Aunt Flora is slowly losing her memory to Alzheimer's, and their beloved house seems to be falling apart just as a greedy housing developer is eying their property. Painfully shy and reserved, Mercy struggles to cope with her school assignments and her complicated home life as she tries very hard not to stand out. When Mr. Singh moves into the McKnight house as a lodger, his stories about Gandhi's peaceful struggle for independence inspire Mercy to stand up for herself. Krone's characters are diverse, convincing, and full of life. The McKnight sisters are white, Mercy has dark skin and is likely of mixed heritage, Mr. Singh is Indian, and Mercy's classmates are representative of South Africa's diverse communities. The story stands on its own, but readers unfamiliar with South Africa might also benefit from concurrent research or discussion about South African history, cultures, and languages.Sensitive, funny, and tender. (Fiction. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter 1 Mercy stood in front of the principal's desk, with the excuse note in her hand. Mrs. Griesel laid down her pen and looked at her over the top of her spectacles. "Yes, Mercy?" she said, taking the note and opening it. "It says here that you are to be excused from the class assembly rehearsals because you have ..." She paused and looked at Mercy as if she couldn't quite believe what she was reading. "The collywobbles?" Mercy nodded. "Are the collywobbles the same or different from the dickey tummy you had last week?" Mrs. Griesel heaved herself out of her swivel chair and clip clopped over to a filing cabinet from which she pulled a file. "I must have about twelve excuse notes here," she said. "This one was rather good. It says that you are to be excused from inter-house cross-country because you have a bone in your leg." She raised one eyebrow. "Who wrote this note, Mercy?" "My foster mother Aunt Mary." "Did she also write the one about you having a bone in your leg?" "No, that was my other foster mother, Aunt Flora." "Yes, I remember now. They're sisters." Mrs. Griesel tapped her top lip with her index finger. "And, just remind me, how long have you been living with these Aunts?" "Since I was five." "And they are ... how old would you say?" Mercy didn't know. When she'd asked Aunt Mary a few years ago, Aunt Mary said she was as old as her tongue and a little bit older than her teeth. They were old--but it was hard to say just how old. Their faces were lined and freckled and their hair was silvery white: Aunt Mary cut hers straight with nail scissors but Aunt Flora's hair stood up like dandelion fluff. Aunt Mary always carried a handkerchief and a bunch of keys in the pocket of her homemade dress. Aunt Flora liked comfy tracksuit pants that she pulled up high. How old is that exactly? "I don't know, Mrs. Griesel." "So why has Mrs. Pruitt sent you to me today? Tell me more about this class assembly and why you need to be excused from it." It was hard for Mercy to explain why the instruction to do a folk dance from her own culture proved so difficult to follow. When she asked the Aunts for help, they didn't make it any easier. "Oh for Heaven's sake," Aunt Mary said, when Mercy asked. "Can we pretend you are Polish and teach you the polka?" Aunt Mary had ideas about education and they didn't include cultural folk dancing or anything "new-fangled" as she called it. She didn't even read Mercy's school reports. She thought education should include memorizing the Latin names of plants and a lot of great poetry. Oh young Lochinvar has come out of the West, through all the wide border his steed was the best ... But Aunt Flora was more nervous: she liked Mercy to get the right answer and not get into trouble. "What should we do, Mary?" Aunt Flora said. "Shall we teach her the quick step?" But they decided in the end to teach her Morris dancing. So Mercy watched while Aunt Flora played a plinky-plonky tune on the piano and Aunt Mary skipped about the sitting room waving her handkerchief in time to the music. Aunt Mary was not a person who skipped lightly and Mercy had been a bit disturbed by the sight--and then relieved when Aunt Mary had come to a breathless halt saying, "Oh, this is ridiculous. We'll have to think of something else." After an awkward silence, Aunt Flora asked, "Well, what will the other children be doing?" "Indian dancing? Maybe Zulu dancing," Mercy offered. "Mrs. Pruitt said that we all have a culture and we must celebrate it." "Ridiculous," said Aunt Mary. "Almost no-one has a single culture. If I were in your class at school, Mercy, which culture would I celebrate? White South African, whatever that is? Viking? English? West Indian?" "West Indian?" Mercy was confused. "Yes. After our great grandmother died, my great grandfather married a West Indian woman and its one of the big regrets of my life that I've never gone to Barbados to meet that side of my family." "Mrs. Pruitt wants me to do something by these people called the Cape Malay Minstrels," said Mercy. "Maybe it's because I'm ... you know ... colored." "Just because your mother's people came from Cape Town originally is no reason, dear child, to go capering about in shiny satin twanging a small guitar. Honestly! If you had grown up on the Cape Flats, it would be a festival that you could take completely to heart, but you've never even been to Cape Town!" Mercy was relieved. She'd seen the Kaapse Klopse festivities on TV; seen the bright costumes, the brass bands and the colorful umbrellas, but the whole event was completely alien to her; it was as strange as a Chinese New Year street party with paper dragons. "So," said Aunt Mary, "If we are to be accurate, I think what we are looking for here is a dance that has some Cape Malay, some Khoisan, a bit of Dutch Settler, some English ..." "I think we'll just write a little excuse note, shall we?" Aunt Flora said, always anxious to get Aunt Mary off her high horse. "Now where did I put those ..." And she wandered off through the kitchen and out into the back garden, patting her pockets and the top of her head, looking for her spectacles. So it was Aunt Mary who found a pen and wrote the note about the collywobbles--the same note that Mrs. Griesel was now adding to Mercy's folder as she waited for an explanation. Mercy took a deep breath. "Our class in is charge of assembly on Friday and Mrs. Pruitt wants us to do folk dancing from our own culture." "What a good idea!" said Mrs. Griesel, beaming. "I don't understand why your aunts would want you to miss out on this very worthwhile cultural activity. It sounds like such fun. Don't you agree, Mercy?" "Yes ma'am." Mrs. Griesel made her hands into a church steeple to support her chin and looked at Mercy with narrowed eyes. "I have to confess, you're a bit of a mystery, Mercy Adams," she said, looking back down at the folder. "Your marks are excellent but you won't join in. You won't do sport at all. Or orals. Or plays. You want to be excused from everything." Mrs. Griesel sighed. "And the peculiar thing is that these foster mothers of yours seem to collude in this non-participation. They seem to encourage it." She changed her tone of voice and tilted her head at a caring angle. "Mercy, is everything all right at home?" "Yes. It's all fine," said Mercy quickly. "Everything's fine." Mrs. Griesel looked back down at the open folder, flapped some pages backwards and forwards, and asked a bit too casually, "When did the social worker last check on you?" Mercy dug her fingernails into the palm of her hand. "I think I need to contact Child Welfare to review your case." Mrs. Griesel made a note in her diary. "I'm sure it's time they extended the order." She paused and then she said under her breath: "It may be time to reconsider ..." "It's OK, Mrs. Griesel, ma'am," Mercy said as brightly as she could. "I'll do the dancing." "That's the spirit, Mercy," said Mrs. Griesel, leaning back in her chair. "A little dancing will do you so much good." She wrinkled her nose. "You might even enjoy it." Mercy was prepared to do almost anything, even skip around waving a white hanky in the air, if it would keep the social worker away from the house. Excerpted from Small Mercies by Bridget Krone All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.