For the last ten years or so, since the Borders of yesteryear were still open, I have been a huge proponent of the middle grade genre. I have personally thought that some of the best, most underrated stories for adults have come from that particular section of the bookshops and have found that some of my favorite stories have bloomed from middle grade.
And here I am ready to tell you about my newest favorite: Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth by Sheila O’Connor.
Until Tomorrow starts with a letter from Reenie Kelly to the town shut-in Mr. Marsworth explaining that she was his new papergirl, even though it’s usually a boy’s job, and that she wanted to personally introduce herself to everyone along her route so they know their paper is in good hands. Since he was the only one who wouldn’t come to the door, a letter was just as good and maybe the two of them could meet one day.
When he responds to the letter, what blooms is a friendship that no one anticipated between the new girl in town and the local hermit. She tells him of what it was like to move her when her mother passed away and how she just wants her oldest brother Billy to stay out of the draft and never in his life have to see the Vietnam War. Between the two of them, she hopes to find a way to keep him safe and alive and maybe, just maybe, Mr. Marsworth could be her best friend.
Personally, I love a book in letters. That’s probably why I loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer so much. And the juxtaposition of Reenie’s youth, innocence and inquisitiveness and Mr. Marsworth’s life’s experience, peace talk and his unwillingness to share his secrets is truly fantastic. He doesn’t always answer Reenie, but when he does, it’s always a sort of grandfatherly type of response and it’s just so sweet to watch the kinship between these two blossom as the story progresses.
And the story is really something. The Kelly family has moved in with their grandmother when their mother passes away and they’re low on funds. But coming to Lake Liberty hasn’t been easy. Reenie and her older brother Dare find themselves in a turf war with two local kids and things go haywire when Reenie tries to help her brother stay out of the draft.
I’m not entirely sure if I’ve ever read a book set during that time, so this was honestly refreshing to read about. It allowed me to want to learn more about what was going on at that time and discover the lengths some people would go to in an effort not to go to war and the general feeling of those finding themselves on the frontline. And not just that, but the general feeling that American citizens have when it came to serving and how they felt about those who were unwilling. It’s an interesting time in history that I feel isn’t very present in terms of literature; at least not that I’ve seen.
It’s rare for me to find a book and watch as the pages dwindle down only to think, “But wait! I don’t want it to end! I want to keep reading about Reenie and Dare and Billy and Mr. Marsworth and Carl Grace! What happens after that last page? Can’t I know?!” But Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth was one of those rare, beautiful books. I wanted to find out what Reenie said next and if Mr. Marsworth would respond, but I also wanted the book to last as long as possible. The best/worst kind of book, you know?
It was an absolute joy to discover this book and I could not recommend it more. For those of you who may scoff at the middle grade genre, this could easily sway you in a different direction. It was a truly lovely book and I just want everyone to enjoy this absolute gem.
Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth is available now through Putnam.