top of page

An Incredible Young Adult Historical Fiction to Rival Tom Sawyer - an Editorial Review

Author Bio:

Cheryl King is a dyslexia therapist and longtime educator, and Sitting on Top of the World is her debut novel.

Book Blurb:

Fourteen-year-old June Baker never in a million years thought she’d be dressing like a boy, sneaking into a hobo camp, and jumping onto a moving freight train to travel across the state of Tennessee. But that’s what she has to do to find work so her family’s farm can survive.

It’s 1933, and the Great Depression is spreading misery throughout America. Where once June was sitting on top of the world, now she’s carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. Once she was picking fruit from the pawpaw trees, and now she’s picking up the pieces of a family torn apart. Once she was climbing and falling from trees, and now she’s jumping from moving trains.

June knows the risks. What she doesn’t know is that the railroad bull she’s falling for has a devastating secret that will change the course of her life.

Journey with June in Sitting on Top of the World, a historical fiction tale about family, friendship, love, loss, and hope.

Sitting on Top of the World bridges the gap between middle grade and young adult and is a book that middle school and high school teachers can be proud to include in their classroom library or in reading instruction.

Content warning: Some instances of physical violence, death, mention of suicide, mention of miscarriage, and characters encounter racial bigotry.

Book Buy Link:

Editorial Review:

... I head for The Depression Trees and I sit among them, head buried in my arms, heat beatin’ down on my back, and I cry. I cry for all I’ve lost, and I cry for the people who lost more than me, and I cry for the future and the fear of what is to come.’

This is a poignant depiction of real life during the devastating years of the Great Depression. Told from the point of view of June Baker, a typical young girl on the cusp of puberty, living each day on top of the world until misery sweeps in on the back of the American economic collapse during the early 1930s. June lives on a farm in Tennessee, with hard working parents and an older brother who she adores, and even though they manage for a time with food harvested from their own farm, as time goes by, the less and less they have. The town near them closes down, and the shelves at the local Piggly Wiggly go bare. The days of laughing and playing marbles transforms into days of survival, and after her brother starts hoboing on the trains to find work to help the family, things really start going downhill.

Like dominoes, tragedies strike one by one, and June finds herself having to make some life-altering decisions at such a young age. Soon, the whole family's survival is on her shoulders and she must follow her brother’s path by hopping the trains herself. With her mother growing sicker by the day and the possibility that she is falling for a young man she met in Virginia, a young man hiding a secret, June grows up fast in a world that is transforming around her.

This is a great book for any teacher wanting to teach about the travails of this era to middle school or high school students, and the added bonus of the author using the raw dialect of the area is a nice touch and truly makes June a real character in every sense of the word. You feel her pain, you cry with her, you laugh with her, and sense all of her joys and sorrows she experiences within the pages of this novel – and the themes of friendship, family, love, integrity, and hope shine brightly, giving the modern reader a taste of life in rural America at that time.

So often in historical fiction, especially with books used in school to depict certain eras, our minds might turn to classic examples such as Jane Eyre, or Tom Sawyer, or Oliver Twist... but this story is another brilliant example of looking at the harsh realities of an era without any filters from a young person’s perspective.

You can smell the hot dust blowing up from fields gone bare, you can see June’s sallow and sunken cheeks from days passing without enough to eat, you can hear the sound of the crickets on a clear night beneath the pawpaw trees, and you can taste the one and only caramel square she savors as the simple splurge from years without any such delights passes, and you can feel the marbles in her fingers as she plunges her fingers into the jar and rolls them through her fingers.

Them marbles is one of my favorite things in the world. I love lookin’ at the swirls of colors melting into each other. I love the feel of ‘em when I dip my hand in the jar to scoop a bunch out, the clicking sound they make as they knock together, the weight of ‘em in my hand, the silky smoothness of them as they roll in my palm, the clunk-clunk-clunk as I drop them gently to the table and hold out my arms to stop them as they roll every which way.’

All these details is one of the things that makes this book so incredibly special, and one that any young person wanting to start a journey into the world of historical fiction should add to their collection.

I just love Virginia Woolf, and A Room of One’s Own, even though it’s a sight challenging for me, inspires me to do things, to stand up as a strong girl who’s almost grown up and is worthy of respect from all people, just as much as men are, and I love the feeling this book gives me. It’s amazin’ that a book – a collection of words on paper – can make a person feel powerful and important and invincible.’


Sitting on Top of the World” receives 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company


bottom of page