The Year We Were Famous
Carole Estby Dagg (Young Adult Historical Fiction)
It’s 1896 and the Estby family is just one auction away from losing their family farm. They must either raise more than $1,000 or lose everything. Inspired by her daughter Clara’s story of Nellie Bly, the American journalist who traveled around the world in 72 days, family matriarch Helga begins writing letters seeking a financial sponsor who will pay them to walk from Washington to New York. When a publisher in New York City offers them $10,000 to make the cross-country trek, the game is officially…so to speak…afoot.
Based on the true story of 17-year old Clara Estby’s walk across America, Carole Estby Dagg gives us the ultimate mother-daughter road trip story. Using newspaper articles and journal entries, Dagg reconstructs the 4,600-mile journey made by her great-grandmother and great-aunt. Since the story is based on actual events, the author does take several artistic liberties when presenting us with Helga’s and Clara’s adventures. I really loved this book until I read the Author’s Note at the end, where I learned exactly what embellishments were made. I was disappointed when fact and fiction were revealed, but understand how these particular fabrications gave Clara a little more depth of character. However, the incredible journey these two women embarked upon made these particular elaborations unnecessary. Helga and Clara survived highwaymen, lava fields, floods, heat, snowstorms, near starvation, personal injuries, and dehydration. Along the way, they also met Indians, political dignitaries, and managed to make a positive impact toward the advancement of women’s suffrage.
Early in the book, Clara mentions that the only thing she has in common with her mother is the gap between their front teeth. By the end of their multi-million step journey, Clara realizes that despite their differences, the bond between mother and daughter may be pulled, flexed, and twisted, but will never be broken.