Treva Hall Melvin always wanted to be a writer but somehow ended up becoming a criminal attorney instead. Still, she never forgot her childhood dream and has now written Mr. Samuel’s Penny, which is based on events in her own childhood and is also her homage to To Kill a Mockingbird. This historical mystery takes us back to 1972, when civil rights laws were fairly new and people of all colors were still feeling their way in this new era, especially in the South. It’s also a fish-out-of-water story, a story about family, and a story about eyes being opened to what the world is really like (the good, the bad, and the ugly). Sound interesting? Oh, and I’m delighted that the publisher has provided us with a copy that one of you will win in our pay-it-forward giveaway!
In the summer of 1972, fourteen-year-old Elizabeth “Lizbeth” Landers and her younger sister, Lena, traveled from their home in Queens, New York to spend the summer with relatives in the small northeastern Inner-Banks North Carolina town of Ahoskie. Lizbeth was used to the energy of New York and its fast pace, so she knew it was possible that she could die of boredom in this town out in the middle of nowhere. Thank goodness she’s got lots of cousins and relatives there to play with, even if she is getting a little too old for that. And she might even get some new pennies to add to her collection.
As she soon discovers, being bored isn’t likely at all. She hasn’t been there any time when she hears sirens and sees flashing lights on cars headed for the bridge. She races on her new bike to the scene in anticipation. There she learns someone’s car has just gone over the side of the bridge into the Danbury River. When her Uncle Frank pulls the car up with his crane, they find Mr. Samuel, the owner of Samuel’s Lumber Yard, and his tiny baby daughter. It’s a horrible tragedy that shakes her new community but the medical examiner rules it an accident. No one who knows Mr. Samuel could ever think he’d do something like that on purpose. It’s little wonder that his beautiful wife, Miss Violet, is inconsolable with grief and everyone fears she won’t survive the loss.
Lizbeth does think, however, that there’s a couple of odd things about how Mr. Samuel was found. She knows how rare a 1909 Lincoln Wheat Penny is and is shocked to find that Mr. Samuel was found clutching one tightly in his fist – a fist with part of one finger missing. What happened to his finger and why clutch a penny, even an important one, when you’re drowning? Then when that penny gets stolen from police evidence and Sheriff Bigly finds bullet holes in the bridge near where the car went over, Lizbeth knows something is terribly wrong with that whole accident theory.
The question is, what really happened that sent Mr. Samuel into the river? Did those bullets cause Mr. Samuel to go off of the bridge? Who could have been shooting at him and why? Who would want to murder Mr. Samuel, who everyone in her community liked so much? Who stole the penny? Lizbeth is sure that if she can find that penny, she can solve the mystery. It’s the least she can do to help Miss Violet. Not only that, but spending the summer in Ahoskie just got a whole lot more interesting!
“He shoved his hand down deep in his pocket as if he was digging for gold. His perfectly gapped teeth gleamed when he struck his mark. The peculiar old man leaned over, grinning, having his fun with me while I waited for the treasure to appear. Out came his clutched fist, then he held it under my chin.
‘For you city gal,’ he said as he opened his hands wide.
There in his weathered palm were three coins. I didn’t recognize but two of them. First was a twelve-sided three pence, Elizabeth II 1958. That was fine but, hey, it was a British coin. The second was, as I called them, an everyday penny. So bright, you’d think it wasn’t real…but it was. It was cast in 1962. No wonder, it was just a spit younger than my sister.
But he wasn’t done yet.
A huge copper coin, obviously not American, called my attention. But to my surprise, it said United States of America, ONE CENT 1849. My God! And it had a cut in its side. I almost passed out…I’d never seen such a thing in my life.
‘These are for you, gal. Since I had these coins rattlin’ around in the house doin’ nothing, I thought that they could find some use at yours.’…’I know you’re huntin’ for somethin’ real important, gal. But sometimes you gotta ease up on the chase. It’ll come to you in time, just like these coins. You don’t have to do a thing, but be you. Otherwise, you can end up chasin’ your own tail, bitin’ it, if you’re not careful.’ His watery eyes gripped my soul firmly.”
So where can she find pennies? She doesn’t pass up any opportunity to look over folks’ pennies. From Ms. Melaney Neely, known by all the kids as Ms. McMeany, to her own eccentric Aunt Odie to Ben, Mr. Samuel’s brother who stands to inherit Samuel’s Lumber Yard, Lizbeth uses every trick in the book to get a look at their pennies. Everyone in town is a suspect as far as she’s concerned and she’s determined to get a look at as many pennies as possible. She even scrounges through the collection plate proceeds at church by offering to be a counter for the minister. Nothing. Still she knows it won’t be hard to spot that Lincoln Wheat Penny, and she knows that when she finds it that she’ll have found Mr. Samuel’s killer.
She decides the best place in town to see people’s pennies is the local grocery store but there’s a problem with that because Mr. Jake seems to hate black people, especially black kids like her. All the kids in town know that. Still, she’s determined to be brave and goes shopping for her Aunt Alice whenever possible. It’s hard because the way Mr. Jake treats her just isn’t right. How can he be so cold and mean when she hasn’t done anything to him?
What Lizbeth doesn’t realize is that she is going to uncover deeper secrets than just those connected to a murder while looking for Mr. Samuel’s penny and his killer. She has a lot of surprises in store for her this summer, some wonderful and some dangerous, and all eye opening to what Ahoskie and the people in it are really like underneath the surface she’s previously seen.
Lizbeth is a spunky, smart girl who is out of her depth in the South but she’s determined to help Miss Violet in the only way she knows how, by finding that penny. She’s got a quick mind and a quick temper, and takes offense when she believes people are patronizing her or mistreating her. Luckily, growing up in Queens, she’s not used to being mistreated and has no intention of becoming used to it. She has a strong sense of right and wrong and won’t tolerate wrongs being committed by anyone for any reason, including other kids. Being fourteen, she is still an absolute thinker like most children. This summer will be a watershed summer as she learns the world is also filled with shades of grey, that nothing is absolute. Her Ahoskie relatives are, for the most part, wise and loving, and yet even they have secrets to be learned. Lizbeth may be a fish out of water in this story but she’s a fish who learns to swim in uncertain waters and to thrive despite adversity. I found myself wanting repeatedly to give her a big hug and tell her it would all turn out okay.
Treva Hall Melvin has written a mesmerizing story that kept me hooked and reading non-stop right up to the end. I loved every minute of it! I grew so attached to the people of Ahoskie who lived and breathed on the pages of Mr. Samuel’s Penny that I felt I had known them all my life. She captured the complex aspects of small North Carolina towns during that period of intense change. It was obvious from reading this novel that she cherished the time she spent there as a child from Queens. I sincerely hope there will be more fiction streaming out of Ms. Melvin’s laptop because I can hardly wait to read it! If Mr. Samuel’s Penny sounds like your kind of read, be sure to enter our giveaway – and if you can’t wait to read it, it’s absolutely worth buying!
Can’t wait to read it?
Mr. Samuel’s Penny was published on November 4, 2014, so it’s available from your favorite online bookseller. Just click the button/link below and go get it to read now!
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One lucky reader will win an ARC (advance readers copy) of Mr. Samuel’s Penny by Treva Hall Melvin!
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