Review of The Windeby Puzzle: History and Story

The Windeby Puzzle: History and Story The Windeby Puzzle: History and Story
by Lois Lowry
Intermediate, Middle School    Clarion/HarperCollins    224 pp.
2/23    9780358672500    $16.99

In 1952 the body of an Iron Age child was discovered in a bog in Germany. In this hybrid volume—part fiction, part nonfiction—Lowry takes the known archaeological facts of this real-life discovery and crafts them into two different stories. In the first, the child, a girl named Estrild, rebels against the restrictive role of women in her agrarian village and presents herself, with the boys, to be a warrior. She is killed, punished for her boldness. The second story’s protagonist is Varick, a boy who had appeared as a supporting character in the first one. Disabled and neglected, he is a keen observer of nature, a thinker, a proto-scientist. He dies of pneumonia. Interspersed with each of these stories is an essay; in these, Lowry casts a wide net, covering the art and science of archaeology, natural history, Iron Age lore, and, most innovatively, her own process in writing historical fiction. In what ways can we connect to the past without imposing our own realities on a time that was so different? How does one’s own life conform to the accepted shape of fiction? The stories are tightly woven and moving, built of gritty, convincing detail and written in the cadenced rhythm of which Lowry is a master. But it is in the essays that she tackles, head-on, big questions of mortality and meaning in a way that is most unusual, honest, and deeply respectful of her young ­audience.

Pubissue-From the May/June 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Ellis
Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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