Hummer Trade Reviews
“A moving, realistic tale about a troubled tween finding a path to strength and purpose.” —Kirkus Reviews
“In Linda Gruenberg’s classic novel Hummer, an isolated twelve-year-old blossoms because of her friendship with a neighbor and his Arabian mare, Fox.” —Foreword Reviews
“Gruenberg’s winning story of a young girl's determination to succeed against all odds, Hummer's unusual friendship with a gruff old man challenged to go against his nature, and her ability to see the good in adversity makes this more than another story of a horse-crazy girl, but a compelling tale of success that proves hard to put down.” —D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
A horse changes the life of a girl burdened by parental dysfunction and denial in this middle-grade novel.
On the outside, sixth grader Hummer’s house on her father’s dairy farm looks pretty normal. What is inside is the reason that no one is ever asked to visit: The girl’s mother, Leona, who sits rocking in front of a TV, is an extreme hoarder. Her anxiety reaches fever pitch if Hummer tries to throw anything away. Every room but 12-year-old Hummer’s is filled with smelly garbage. Her father, Virgil, who has moved into the barn, says that his wife is temporarily going through “a stage” and appears to accept Leona’s excuse that she can’t venture outside the house due to her “bad legs.” This leaves Hummer to see that her mother eats and to secretly do laundry and try to throw away trash without upsetting her.
In Gruenberg’s compassionate treatment of each member of this dysfunctional family, there are no villains; it is clear that beneath Virgil’s denial of his wife’s mental deterioration, he cares for Leona. Love fuels Hummer’s protectiveness of her mother, too, despite being taunted at school when she tries to compensate for the shame she feels by making up self-aggrandizing stories about her life. As school ends for the summer, an unexpected catalyst for change arrives one moonlit night: a beautiful runaway Arabian mare. Hummer loves her old pony, but she’s been dreaming of a horse of her own, and this is meant to be, she thinks. Dubbing the mare Fox, Hummer is crushed to learn the animal belongs to a nearby rancher. In this deftly crafted, resonant story, the author shows how a bond develops between Hummer and Fox, how the tween and the rancher, crusty Old Man Riley, come to an understanding based on their mutual love and respect for horses and equestrian skills—and what happens as he becomes aware of the dysfunction shaping the girl’s life.
Gruenberg deepens the book’s setting with an authentic depiction of a working dairy farm and horse care and training. The author’s pencil illustrations add visual interest.
A moving, realistic tale about a troubled tween finding a path to strength and purpose.
Midwest Book Review
If Hummer sounds familiar, that's because this is the 30th Anniversary re-launch of a middle-grade children's story that was nominated for both the Mark Twain Award and the Golden Sowers Award. Its appearance with a bright new cover, new pencil drawings, and newly revised writing will reach contemporary audiences with a story just as winning as it was when it was originally published.
Twelve-year-old Hummer's home life is anything but stable. From a mentally ill mother and a pigsty of a home to a father who lives in their barn, only the presence of a runaway Arabian horse enters her life as a potentially positive event.
The horse that she's named Fox belongs to Old Man Riley, who normally wouldn't let anyone touch his prized animal. But as Hummer places her hopes and impossible dreams on her new find, her life begins to change: "Everything would probably start solving itself with Fox around, Hummer thought. Leona would surely start coming out of the house again to watch Hummer ride, and Virgil would want to take them to horse shows."
Between what is fantasy and impossible and what can become a new reality lie hopes and dreams that Hummer cultivates successfully. This process, plus descriptions of her life on the farm, comes to life in a warm story that is delightful in its realistic scenarios and characters.
Linda Gruenberg explores Hummer's struggles with family mental illness, dysfunction, and her own role in the world. Hummer's horse-loving personality succeeds in confronting many things around her, and these facets also emerge as middle grade readers receive a realistic story of challenges and changes.
It's easy to see why Hummer was nominated for awards. Gruenberg's winning story of a young girl's determination to succeed against all odds, Hummer's unusual friendship with a gruff old man challenged to go against his nature, and her ability to see the good in adversity makes this more than another story of a horse-crazy girl, but a compelling tale of success that proves hard to put down.
Its reappearance in new form for new generations is to be celebrated as Hummer makes the kinds of choices that lead to unexpectedly positive results against all odds. It's the kind of success story young people especially need today more than ever.
—D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer
In Linda Gruenberg’s classic novel Hummer, an isolated twelve-year-old blossoms because of her friendship with a neighbor and his Arabian mare, Fox.
Henrietta—nicknamed Hummer because of her humming habit—is the daughter of an agoraphobic hoarder, Leona, and a farmer, Virgil, who is resigned about his wife’s mental illness, and who thinks that allowing her to remain in this state is a form of loving protection. Ashamed by the garbage amassing in her home, Hummer avoids getting close to others. She grows fond of her taciturn neighbor Riley’s mare, which he allows her to train for a fifty-mile competitive trail ride.
Gruenberg’s novel is an eloquent portrayal of secrecy, cross-generational friendship, and horsemanship. Hummer’s hopes about finding relief for her family make her a vulnerable heroine, and her subtle, interior changes are compelling. She’s at first a child who tells fibs, embellishing stories to keep people from discovering the truth about her home life, but she’s also a compassionate daughter and talented with animals, which allows her to gain confidence as she trains Fox, improving her stamina for the trail ride.
Riley’s advice is succinct, and his gruffness is a sweet mask for his empathy about Hummer’s need for companionship. Their interactions are laced with subtle wisdom as they bond over Fox. Throughout, details about rural life and equine care reveal a passion for small-town relationships as well as wilderness spaces, all of which builds toward a beautiful metaphor for healing through trust.
Through its sensitive depiction of a family coping with mental illness, whose fallout affects their daughter’s emotions and perceptions, Hummer is a touching novel in which problems are not so much resolved as they are recognized.
—KAREN RIGBY (November / December 2021)