Counting on Grace
Living in a Vermont mill town in 1910, 12-year-old Grace expects to join her mother and older sister at the mill soon. Her family needs the money, and any able-bodied person living in mill-owned housing is expected to be working there. She’s surprised, then, that her teacher, Miss Lesley, makes so much fuss when Arthur, also 12 and the school’s best reader, is forced to leave school for the mill. Miss Lesley believes that Arthur and Grace deserve better – and Grace comes to believe the same, especially after a man named Lewis Hine comes to town with his camera and notebook.
Counting on Grace is a story of children forced to perform hard labor and of adults forced into virtual slavery by their economic dependence on the mill owners. Winthrop, however, avoids the stereotypes that can dog novels dealing with social issues: the workers are neither saintly nor hopelessly downtrodden (Arthur, in fact, can be downright disagreeable), and though the mill owners are not seen here, their subordinates are not without their moments of humanity. Moreover, despite its bleak and sometimes tragic subject matter, this novel is not a grim or depressing one, thanks largely to Grace, who narrates it in a style that captures her natural speaking voice without ever sounding overly folksy or dialect-ridden. Imaginative, plucky, and both smart and smart-mouthed, Grace is a heroine who leaves the reader confident that she will fulfill Miss Lesley’s hopes for her – and ours.