The Novel: In August of 1977, Jane moves out of her parents’ house in Sioux City, Iowa to teach school in Little Missouri, South Dakota. Her mother begs her to come back home when she sees the town of 92 people and hears about the hit-and-run that’s left one of Jane’s new students without a mother. But Jane isn’t letting go of her Mary Tyler Moore style freedom. Just like Mary she’s surrounded by zany characters–from her neighbor Merle Laird and his prize cow Snippy to the glitter-hating school janitor Velma. In such a small town, someone close to Jane is surely the killer.
The Author: Before she became an author, Jolene Stratton Philo taught elementary school for 25 years. Seven of those years were spent in northwestern South Dakota. Their first child was born while we lived there, and our experiences with him resulted in 6 books for the special needs community. Her fiction series, West River Mysteries, draws heavily on her years as an Iowan who landed in cowboy country, who taught country school, and who was adopted and cared for by the locals in the tiny town where she lived.
My thoughts: A plucky young teacher, away from home for the first time, helps solve a who-done-it in small town South Dakota. When a fourteen-year-old student is arrested for murder of another student’s mother, Jane Newell’s problem-solving brain works overtime while she shepherds her class through spelling lessons, hatching monarchs, and glitter projects. With grit, spirit, a great sense of humor and adventure, she also learns to milk a cow and handle a grumpy cleaning lady, all the while pondering clues. The charge against the student is dismissed, and Jane eventually becomes embraced in the arms of this quirky community. I’m looking forward to more West River Mysteries from Jolene Philo.
It also includes the recipe for Merle Laird’s Non-Skid Pancakes!