By Treva Hall Melvin
Lizbeth Landers and her younger sister Lena are spending the summer with relatives in a small North Carolina town. Far from their home in Queens, fourteen year-old Lizbeth thinks she will be bored, but soon learns that small towns and relatives have secrets, some of which can be deadly.
Soon after arriving, there is a horrific car accident in which a man and his daughter drown. A mystery surrounds the accident, and deepens as the penny the dead man clutches in his hand disappears from the evidence gathered at the scene. Lizbeth is determined to find the rare 1909 penny, sure that the person with possession of it will be the one that caused the accident and consequently the deaths of the driver and his toddler.
On her search, she learns about life and herself while interacting with her relatives and other residents of Ahoskie. The teen makes assumptions about life and people in her 1972 world. She learns that things are not always as they seem and you have to really get to know people before judging them or supposing you know their motives for how they react.
Mr. Samuel’s Penny is more of a coming-of-age Young Adult book than a Young Adult Mystery. It shows the growth of Lizbeth during the summer into a young lady that is much wiser than she was before she left New York. She learns of life, death and the definition of family that reaches much further than blood ties.
The mystery of the 1909 penny and the car accident is brought to light in the final chapters, but it almost seems to me this is the subplot, not the plot. Lizbeth’s search for the penny brings her into situations that allow her to connect with other characters that she might not have had contact with, but the mystery and penny take a back seat to her growth.
The only plot point that bothered me was Lizbeth’s nine year-old sister. She was mentioned coming to meals, wearing outfits that were not hers, and getting into dangerous situations that leave the reader breathless. But she is not mentioned at the beginning during the accident. Lizbeth, her aunt and uncle are at the scene – where is this younger girl? Lena was told to go play at a little girl’s house while Lizbeth and Aunt Alice go to the laundromat; did she spend the whole summer over there unless she was needed as part of the “action”? I know that the focus of the novel is on Lizbeth, but after introducing a little sister, she has to be accounted for in the rest of the book, especially key scenes at Aunt Alice’s home.
This is Treva Hall Melvin’s first book, and well worth searching out to read. It is a quick read, with an underlying story of growing up told subtly and smoothly along with the mystery. Touching on topics you would not expect adds another layer to this novel that is deceptively complex, yet still easy to read.
Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman
DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.