My first question was – which Mrs. Roosevelt?
Eleven year old Margo Bandini has become accustomed to the tightening times of the Great Depression; of no money for candy and of seeing ‘Sheriff Sale’ signs in the front yards of her friends’ houses. She loves to sit and watch the passing trains with her best friend, Rosa, and to exchange bits of news with Mr. Frappa at the grocery market. Even though her little brother, Charlie, gets into all sorts of scrapes, life still goes on happily.
One day at school, Miss Dobson, the lovely teacher, suggests that each class member choose an important person they admire and write a letter to them expressing their thoughts. Margo is excited. But who should she write to?
When Margo learns that a Sheriff’s Sale sign will soon be going up in their yard because her father can’t make payments quickly enough to satisfy the bank, she knows exactly who she will write to – Everywhere Eleanor! President Roosevelt’s eyes and ears; the woman who wants to help the people. But only two weeks remain before their house will be sold. Will Mrs. Roosevelt receive the letter in time? And if she does will she be able to save Margo’s home?
Margo’s neighbor, Mrs. DiLuso is superstitious. She thinks that shooting stars bring bad luck and that il diavolo (the devil) caused The Great Depression. Mama tells Mrs. DiLuso that “il diavolo didn’t arrive on the tail of a shooting star, but in the hearts of those who allowed it.” [pg. 81]
Margo’s friend Rosa declares that “little brothers can be a nuisance.” [pg. 10] Later, after Charlie gets lost, Margo agrees.
When she is at Rosa’s house, Margo can hear Margo’s parents fighting in the background. Strangely enough, the arguments are mostly because the father cannot fully support his family with his income but he refuses to let his wife work because he believes that it is his duty to provide for his family.
On one occasion, after the tension has oppressed Margo for several weeks, she becomes angry. Here is the account,
Enough was enough! I ignored Rosa when she called to me from her front porch. I ignored Mama and Papa when they looked up from the dining room table to say hello. I ignored the fact that Papa was home early and that the table was covered with account books and papers. I didn’t even flinch when I noticed that Mama’s eyes were red again.
I paid no heed to Papa’s “Margo!” as I stomped up the stairs to my room and slammed my door shut as hard as I could. I didn’t pay any attention to my growling stomach when Mama called me to dinner. I simply told her I wasn’t hungry and stayed in my room.
It was bedtime when Charlie knocked on my door and whispered, “Margo, I’m really sorry. Can I come in?” I didn’t answer him; instead I threw my pillow as hard as I could. It landed with a loud thud against the door, then fell to the floor.
I thought I’d feel better. I didn’t. I was hungry. I was tired – tired of being mad at everyone. But there was something far worse than the anger pounding away inside my head. It was the feeling in my heart. I was lonely, very lonely. [pg. 72]
After exhausting her anger in this way, Margo feels much more cheerful the next day.
My only other concern is philosophical rather than with something that is defiling. The problem of the story is that a young girl’s family is about to lose their home. The great wish of the protagonist is to have her home saved. The conclusion *PARDON THE SPOILERS* is that the house is saved – by Eleanor Roosevelt’s intercession and provision for the family with one of FDR’s New Deal loans. Her intervention in the private world of business and loans is Margo’s salvation.
‘Gee’ is used once.
Conclusion. A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt provides a glimpse into the worries, expectations, interests, and hope of the generation of the 1930s. Through Margo we learn of the insecurities and solutions of this momentous time period.
Review © 2012 Laura Verret