Reviews for Miss Spitfire : Reaching Helen Keller

Booklist Reviews 2007 August #1
*Starred Review* Miller's accomplished debut imagines Annie Sullivan's first experiences with her famous pupil, Helen Keller, from the young teacher's train ride to Alabama, during which she anticipated teaching a charge who had "no words, only sensations," to the breakthrough at the water pump, where she taught Helen to use language. Miller based her story on Sullivan's letters, excerpts of which begin each chapter, and in Sullivan's voice, Miller muses about the monumental questions and challenges that she faced: "It's up to me to show Helen that communication between people exists at all." Many lengthy passages detailing the wild, messy intimacy and the violent physical altercations between Sullivan and young Helen may tire some readers, but they amplify the visceral sense of Sullivan's exhausting struggle. In language that often reads like poetry, Miller creates a strong portrait of Sullivan's accomplishments, as well as her character--volatile, ferociously intelligent, and yearning for love and belonging, just like Helen. "Words bridge the gaps between two minds. Words are a miracle," Sullivan says. Miller's words reach beyond the historical facts here, encouraging readers to think about the small miracles of connection they can accomplish with words every day. Photos, a chronology, and an extensive bibliography conclude this stirring, fictionalized account. Copyright 2007 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2007 June #1
Why is the story of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan so enthralling? Is it that they found success in the seemingly impossible struggle shared at some level by all young people: to articulate one's true thoughts and feelings? If so, then debut author Miller nails her audience with this fictionalized account of the first few weeks of Helen and Annie's acquaintance, leading up to the breakthrough scene at the water pump. Details drawn from Annie's letters and Helen's autobiography are fleshed out engagingly in the first-person voice of Miller's imagined Annie, the young "spitfire" who overcomes obstacles no matter the power of the adults in her life. Acknowledging the presumption of writing someone else's story, Miller provides resources to allow the reader to seek out more. Should young readers bother with fiction in this case, when so much biographical material is available? It's hard to argue with Miller, as she sticks so close to the documented story while giving readers a good dose of the melodrama that makes it so appealing, a craving for more and the direction to find it. (author's note, photographs, chronology, bibliography) (Fiction. 9-14) Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

School Library Journal Reviews 2007 July

Gr 5-9-- Filled with the tension, animosity, and determination that Annie Sullivan felt upon meeting Helen Keller, this novel portrays that most important month in their relationship, March 1887. The story is told through Annie's voice, and it begins as she travels by train from Boston to Tuscumbia, AL. The child she has been hired to teach is both deaf and blind, and there is only one previous case study that suggests that the six-year-old will ever be able to learn. As the story unfolds, readers see that strong-willed Annie is just the person to take on this formidable task. Her anger at Helen for her contrary ways is matched only by her disgust at the Kellers for allowing the girl to control everyone in the family and have her way. The incident during which Helen breaks a tooth in Annie's mouth with a well-placed punch is vividly recounted, and readers have great sympathy for the teacher's desire to get even. In spite of her own temper, the fierce love Annie feels, almost immediately, for Helen, is evident throughout. Although the flashbacks describing Annie's life before she arrived at the Kellers' interferes at times with the story's momentum, this excellent novel is compelling reading even for those familiar with the Keller/Sullivan experience. Children encountering them for the first time will feel an overwhelming sense of wonder and delight when Annie helps Helen make a communication breakthrough.--Wendy Smith-D'Arezzo, Loyola College, Baltimore, MD

[Page 107]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

VOYA Reviews 2007 August
In this debut novel, Miller departs from the known Keller story, imagining instead the emotional terrain of Keller's teacher, Annie Sullivan. Readers join Annie as she boards a train bound for Alabama and the Kellers. She spends her journey haunted alternately by horrific childhood memories and anxiety-filled visions of her future. Arriving in Alabama half-mad with grief and fear, she finds a family on the brink of collapse, under the control of a blind and deaf, pint-sized, feral tyrant. Not only must she find a way to reach Helen, but she must also convince the Kellers to treat Helen like a real child rather than an afflicted pet. Helen and her family do not go quietly. Readers follow Annie's emotional struggle to teach Helen obedience first, and then letters and words, and finally understanding. Along the way, the two lost individuals discover self-identity, love, and trust. The friendship will last a lifetime Drawing on historical documentation, Miller crafts a fascinating work of fiction. Her rendering of Annie is based on letters that Annie wrote to a friend while staying with the Kellers. Also lending authenticity is a lengthy list of sources consulted; however, Miller goes well beyond history. She delves into the hearts and minds of her subjects, creating realistic, believable characters. The Kellers's love mingled with despair, Annie's loneliness and her terror of failure, and Helen's frustration and the overwhelming joy of her breakthrough are palpable. Miller brings history to life.-Amy Fiske Photos. Biblio. Further Reading. Chronlogy. 4Q 3P M J Copyright 2007 Voya Reviews.