2024 Newbery Buzz #2: Nothing Else But Miracles by Kate Albus

Traditionally, the Newbery Medal has been awarded to many historical fiction novels. That trend has shifted a bit in recent years. Today, we’re looking at a solid historical fiction option, wondering if it has what it takes: Nothing Else But Miracles by Kate Albus.

To read the rest in our series or previous years’ discussions, check out the Newbery Buzz Page.

Nothing Else But Miracles: A Throwback

Betsy: Janie and Hayley, it’s so rare that three of us on the Redeemed Reader team each read the same book within a few weeks of each other! But such is the case with Nothing Else But Miracles by Kate Albus. Janie, since you wrote the review, would you mind summarizing the novel for our readers who haven’t seen your review yet?

Janie: Nothing Else but Miracles struck me as a bit of a throwback to the great days of children’s historical fiction: engaging characters, absorbing plot where they have to solve their own problems, loads of historical detail from the World War II home front—and no politics. Three children whose mother has died of tuberculosis are left on their own when their father decides not to seek an exemption from Selective Service. He’s shipped away to France, leaving 12-year-old Dory and her brothers Fisher and Pike (17 and 8, respectively) to get along on their own. Pop is not carelessly deserting his kids; Fish is responsible for his age and their landlord is almost like a grandad. But the landlord dies in an accident and the new guy appears to hate kids. He also threatens to turn them over to a social worker if they can’t produce a responsible adult on the premises, so it’s in their interest to pretend Pop is still around. Dory takes the lead in pretending, and circumstances reveal her talent for prevarication. With the landlord breathing down their necks, she even finds a place of respite for the family in an abandoned hotel. I had some problems with Dory’s character, especially her penchant for effortless lying, but I found the book a brisk and funny read with appropriate pathos at the end.

Possible Issues with Nothing Else But Miracles

Hayley: I’m going to jump in with something that’s been nagging at me. I think the ending, though sweet, was almost too tidy…. Given Dory’s penchant for lying, I found myself wishing she’d have just one comeuppance or reckoning. Instead she sails through the book, blithely. But the end, I realized the only thing that would satisfy me was if I were told that Dory was real. If the author had a grandmother who really was such a sweet but rotten little liar! And instead, I was told this all was fiction. The setting, amazing. Conning old ladies into giving their ticket stubs? Not my favorite!

I did love the awkward dance though. Dory, despite her faults, is kind and honest. The way Albus navigates her school crush was so sweet and well done! 

Betsy: Well, perhaps we should discuss what we DIDN’T like before what we DID? I love that description, Janie: “a brisk and funny read.” But I agree, Hayley, that the ending was almost too neat and tidy. This was one of those books where I reached a certain point and didn’t want to finish: could Kate Albus be brave and give us a GREAT ending, even if it wasn’t all the way “good”? Was she going to take the easy route and make it too perfect? I don’t think she made it too perfect—but no spoilers here. I do think, though, that Dory needed some consequences. Perhaps the owner of the old hotel could have made Dory do some damage control. Or, perhaps she could have had some relationship difficulties stemming from her lying. Or something. I think that’s an interesting point, Hayley—would you really have liked Dory better if she had been based on a real person? I’m going to have to think about that.

What Stands Out in Nothing Else But Miracles

Betsy: Personally, I thought Albus absolutely nailed the setting, both place and time period. That’s harder than it looks in a good historical novel; it should look effortless. We shouldn’t realize, as readers, that we’re reading an author’s hard work. I laughed when someone referred to lingerie as “unmentionables” because of course that’s something they would say in 1940s New York! What did you all think about the setting?

Janie: I agree about the setting—mostly. I found a few anachronistic phrases. As one who was born less than ten years after the War ended (which sounds awfully old!), I can kind of remember when certain sayings came into common use. I don’t remember hearing “No way!” until the 1970s, for instance. There were a few other phrases that struck me as more recent though I can’t remember them without the book in front of me. That’s not a big objection, though. As far as the sights and sounds of 1940s New York, the story certainly has an authentic feel.  My experience would be mostly from old black-and-white movies of the forties, but as products of the time, I’m sure those are accurate enough.

Dory sounds like an “actual” kid to me—nothing about her struck me as inauthentic. She has a lively imagination and a can-do spirit, which could well have developed after her mother’s death from TB (which was also common enough at the time). With a mom not at home and a dad working 8-10 hour days, a kid would need to develop some initiative. What did you think of her brothers, Fisher and Pike?    

Hayley: I did love her brothers! Fisher is such a sweet mix of responsible elder brother and sometimes still just a teenager. And Pike definitely fit in well as the baby of the family. If there’s one thing Albus does VERY well in both this book and her previous work, it’s capturing sibling dynamics. 

Janie, I know you touched on the spiritual content of Nothing Else But Miracles in your review. (Dory’s conversations with the Statue of Liberty could come across as prayers, which is a bit odd.) That might have skewed it away from a starred review at Redeemed Reader, but what do you think this book’s Newbery chances are? I think it’s a pleasant story, but I’m not sure it has the oomph to get a medal.    

cover of Nothing Else But Miracles

Does Nothing Else But Miracles Have What It Takes?

Janie: About 10 or 15 years ago I would said its chances for the Newbery were very high. There’s an unusually high number of historical fiction titles chosen through the years, and Miracles has a number of appealing qualities. Today, I’m not so sure. The novel is a classic tale of kids taking charge and taking care of each other, but it doesn’t touch on any contemporary issue like feminism or civil rights or sexual freedom. I might just be too cynical, though, and the Newbery committee has surprised me in years past. I’d say its chances are worse than even, but what would you say, Betsy!

Betsy: Unfortunately, Janie, I think you’re right. I don’t think Nothing Else But Miracles is “distinctive” (that word that gets thrown around in Newbery circles!) in the right way for today’s critics. It’s a charming read and many kids will love it, but we’ve seen over and over again through the years that kid favorites aren’t always the critics’ favorites. If the committee surprises us, though, I’ll be happy enough!

Hayley, do you agree?

Hayley: If it wins, I think it will be just the kind of improbable happy ending that fits this story! It really is a lovely story, and I love the way Albus writes strong families and interesting historical fiction!

Readers: do you agree with us? Have you read Nothing Else But Miracles?

For the rest in this Newbery Buzz series, past and present, don’t miss our main Newbery Buzz series page!

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Betsy Farquhar

Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Southeast.

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