BookBrowse Reviews The Second Life of Abigail Walker by Frances O'Roark Dowell

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Second Life of Abigail Walker

by Frances O'Roark Dowell

The Second Life of Abigail Walker by Frances O'Roark Dowell X
The Second Life of Abigail Walker by Frances O'Roark Dowell
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Aug 2012, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2013, 256 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Tamara Ellis Smith
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


A multi-layered examination of friendship, self-esteem, and the pathways to a happy, hopeful life for middle graders and adults alike

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

-Wendell Berry from Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

The Second Life of Abigail Walker begins with this epitaph, an excerpt from one of Wendell Berry's poems (see "Beyond the Book"), and the first character we encounter in the story is, in fact, a fox. She is not an ordinary one, though. She is magical, has been in many places over many times, and is one who has witnessed many stories unfold. This time she makes an appearance in Abby Walker's story.

Abby, who is in sixth grade, wants to be just average and blend in. She is desperately trying to fit in with the "medium" girls. Medium smart, medium tall, medium ability at sports. But when she doesn't agree with a nasty comment the ringleader of the "mediums" makes, she is cast out once and for all.

This is a typical example of bullying and complicated middle school dynamics, but O'Roark Dowell creates a story that is anything but typical. There's that magical fox, for one thing, who trots in and out of Abigail's narrative.

The fox recounts stories set in her own past and draws parallels between them and Abby's present-day circumstance. This sheds more light on Abby and her predicament than would otherwise be possible. Having the fox corroborate her views makes Abby a very reliable narrator - one with whom the reader can empathize.

O'Roark Dowell uses the fox as a red furry thread, weaving together universal stories (of President Lincoln, the Westward Expansion and other historical moments in time) and Abby's own story. This fox drives home the message outlined in the epitaph; it reminds Abby that the way to finding her true self is by trying again and again, by trekking down one path and then another, by slowly making new friends.

The book has a whole host of other characters who are struggling with their own complicated dynamics and feelings of isolation. Abby's mother can't tolerate unhappiness. Her father is unable to see past surface characteristics. And, most important, Abby has a new friend Anders, whose father is working hard to overcome his fears of practically everything. By making the choice to keep the adults in the story present (and having their troubles aired as well), the author places Abigail's problems in a larger context where the people around her are all battling issues of their own.

Finally, because O'Roark Dowell establishes a wide landscape for Abby's journey - from her middle school nemeses, to her connection with the magical fox, to her new friend Anders and his family - the story becomes a rich, messy mix of relationships and their dynamics.

The result is a multi-layered examination of friendship, self-esteem, and the pathways to a happy, hopeful life. As Wendell Berry states: Practice resurrection. Walk an extra mile. Walk in a different direction. Walk too much, too far, for too long. Because somewhere inside those journeys is the exact place where you might finally find your true self. Abby does just that. She practices resurrection and gets a "second life."

I highly recommend The Second Life of Abigail Walker to middle graders and adults alike.

Reviewed by Tamara Ellis Smith

This review was originally published in September 2012, and has been updated for the August 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Wendell Berry

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Inland
    Inland
    by Téa Obreht
    It's 1893 and the sparsely populated settlement of Amargo, deep in the Arizona Territory, is ...
  • Book Jacket
    La Belle Sauvage
    by Philip Pullman
    Voted 2017 Best Young Adult Novel by BookBrowse's Subscribers

    I wasn't quite sure what to expect ...
  • Book Jacket: Conviction
    Conviction
    by Denise Mina
    Scottish author Denise Mina's latest novel, Conviction, is a fast-paced thriller narrated by Anna, a...
  • Book Jacket
    Dread Nation
    by Justina Ireland
    The war between the states is over and, instead, a very different battle is being waged for the ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Ellie and the Harpmaker
    by Hazel Prior

    A rich, heartwarming and charming debut novel about finding love in unexpected places.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
The Overstory
by Richard Powers

"Monumental… A gigantic fable of genuine truths."—Barbara Kingsolver, The New York Times Book Review

About the book
Join the discussion!
Book Club Giveaway!
Win Crudo

Crudo by Olivia Laing

A brilliant, funny, and emphatically raw novel of love on the brink of the apocalypse.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

S A A B In A R

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.