Charley, whose real and unused name is "Rowan," is a prickly, rambunctious and imaginative girl who likes to draw and hear the story of Lizzie Scrotten.
The story of Lizzie Scrotten was a story of the bad old days, when poor people starved, and people without homes went tramping from workhouse to workhouse.
This beloved story is told and retold, patiently, by the family cook. Charley's favorite part is when Lizzie is alone at night, homeless, and walking along looking longingly into the lighted windows of the cozy homes she's passing. A middle child trapped between a clever older brother and a sickly little brother, Charley dreams of being alone and outcast, set apart.
When she's sent to stay with a favorite aunt, Charley's thrilled - until she reads a note not meant for her eyes, and realizes that aunt Louie hadn't wanted her to come. Betrayed, Charley gets off the train early and sneaks into town instead of going to Louie's house. Finding an old chicken house, Charley seizes on her chance to become Lizzie Scrotten. She decides to call herself Rowan, after the beautiful tree. And for a season, the protected middle-class child becomes a free-spirited child of poverty - albeit a somewhat romantic, Boxcar Childrenesque poverty.
It was dawn when she woke properly. The sky was lightening and the air was full of the twitter of birds. She sprang up and scrambled through the hedge, which was hung with great glistening spiders' webs.
Sleeping in her chicken house and drinking from a garden hose in a nearby yard, Charley keeps a watchful eye on her aunt's house and plays different roles with different people she encounters - a gypsy with a local child, a mute with a shopkeeper, a cripple with a minister - for a variety of reasons both practical and playful. Her most meaningful encounter, though, is with a young man who is also running away, and the conversation they have about it. When a crisis comes, though, Charley discovers that she can't be Lizzie any longer.
A cheerful, interesting read that draws its power from the mundane-turned-fascinating details of Charley's hobo life, and her quick, deep store of tales to spin for the strangers in her aunt's village.
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