It was Jeannie Shaw’s favorite time of year but, after what happened the September she turned twelve, those last weeks of summer always held a flash of sadness, like one red tree warning of winter along a green hill.

The day before school started, Jeannie was blueberry picking alone. The hill meadow rippled with heat. She wiped an arm across her forehead. “It’s too hot for September!” she protested. She tugged her cotton dress away from her legs and returned to filling the old shortening pails.

Berry season had lingered on, like the hot weather, this year. The wild blueberries were small and grew on low bushes. It took a long time to pick carefully – no stems, no leaves, no pale pink or hard white berries. Mrs. Campbell, at the store, said Jeannie was the cleanest picker in the valley. Jeannie would sell one pailful to Campbell’s Store for twenty-­five cents, and Mama would be waiting for the other. Jeannie tightened her ribbon to keep her damp hair in place and got back to work.

So hot! It was the first of September, but it felt like July and August put together. No rain softened the air, or slaked the dust from the wild rosebushes beside the roads. All the men listened to the radio for forest-­fire warnings. All the women used well water sparingly. And everyone was careful with lanterns and matches.

When she’d filled the pails, Jeannie turned to catch the breeze. She looked out over the Margaree Valley, with its winding silver river. Fold after paler fold of forested hillside hazed into the distance. Mama always said, “There may be places in the world as nice as this, but there’s nowhere nicer. ”

Jeannie could see a few chimneys, a few roof corners among the trees. Thirteen families lived on this stretch of the river now. Their community was growing at last. She wished for one girl her age in any of those homes, but there ­wasn’t such a girl in the whole valley. Not one. When school started tomorrow, the same handful of students would sit down in the senior classroom, but only she and two boys would actually be in Grade Seven.

The boys ­weren’t worth bothering about, she’d decided on her very first day of school, and she ­hadn’t changed her mind in the years since. Boys never cared for anything but hunting and fishing and horsing around. She’d tried to be friends with the three older girls in Senior Room, but they acted as if she ­didn’t exist. Those girls – always giggling, always posing as if they thought they were in one of those movies at the theater far off in the city, turning their backs when Jeannie came near. In her mind, she called them the Three-­Headed Monster of the Margaree – her silent bit of revenge.

Cecilia ­wouldn’t be like that, Jeannie thought. We’d be best friends, but she’d be nice to everybody else, too. Like Mary in The Secret Garden. And she’d be fun, like Jo in Little Women, but she ­wouldn’t be silly.

Cecilia would be the perfect friend…if she were real. Jeannie had made her up from the best parts of all the best characters in books.

Once a month, Jeannie’s father drove her to the one-­room library at Inverness. She’d read every book the librarian would allow her. She’d read her favorites over and over.

Cecilia would love to read, of course. She’d like making clothes, too. Jeannie wished Cecilia were real so she could help with the hemming. Jeannie hated hemming. And, she had decided, they would be the very same height.

“I wish you were here,” Jeannie said aloud. All she could do was wish.

She set the blueberry pails down on the dusty path to ease her fingers and plucked a last late dandelion puff. She whispered, then blew on the seed head. Her wish drifted out over the hillside, became part of the haze, and disappeared.

She picked up the pails and headed home.


World War II is not long past and life is returning to normal in Cape Breton’s lovely Margaree Valley. But Jeannie Shaw is achingly lonely. Among the thirteen families in her community, there is no one who is potential friend material, and that includes her troublesome four-year-old sister.

When the Parker family moves back to the Valley, Jeannie is thrilled. Perhaps among the children is a girl her age. All these thoughts are put aside when a near tragedy strikes Jeannie’s family. Through the hardship she finally finds a friend in the most unexpected way.

Joanne Taylor’s first novel is a small masterpiece – by turns funny and heartbreaking – full of finely observed moments and carefully drawn, very human, characters.