Surprise Lily

Written by Sharelle Byars Moranville
Review by Meg Wiviott

Ten-year-old Rose loves living on the family farm with her grandmother Ama. What she doesn’t particularly love is having to give an oral report on her family tree. Her family tree includes her great-great-grandmother Belle, her great-grandmother Clara, and all of Clara’s daughters: Harriet Jane (Lotus), Phoebe, Mona, Annie, and Rose’s grandmother, Tulip. She considered leaving her mother, Iris, off the tree, but all the other kids would ask about her. Or worse, whisper about her “druggie mom” who’d left Rose when she was two years old. Rose doesn’t want to think about her mother and why she left. She is happy living with Ama and loves the routines of the farm: spring calves, summer haying, fall calves, and the silence of winters. Rose is happy and comfortable until Iris appears with a secret so surprising it throws Rose out of her comfortable routines and forces her to rise above past hurts and to take on more responsibilities than her mother is capable of.

This multi-generational story written for readers ages 8-12 provides a lovely picture of life on a Midwestern farm, including the struggles and hardships. The story opens with a chapter from Rose’s point of view, then goes back in time to present alternating chapters from Rose’s matriarchal line: Clara, Harriet Rose (Lotus), grandmother Tulip, and her mother Iris. These chapters provide a tool to uncover family secrets of mental illness and the truth of Ama’s birth; however, neither issue seems to impact Rose. She discovers empathy and insight through the surprise Lily brings home. So while the topic of mental illness is touched upon, it is still not thoroughly discussed.