At sixteen, Mercy is the oldest child in her family, with two sisters, aged fourteen and one, and a toddler brother. When the cotton crop fails, and the family is reduced to eating leftover potatoes from a neighbor’s field, Mercy’s father leaves to find work and Mercy is sent to become a hired girl at a farm a day’s walk away. Mercy has never been away from home, and fears being with strangers, but her leaving means one less mouth to feed. It is 1918 and an influenza epidemic is changing the world Mercy has known and the shape her future will take. The epidemic in the story is one that killed millions of people between 1918 and 1920, an estimated 3% of the population, and which killed young adults at an extremely high rate (learn more).
The Goodbye Season is a great read. Mercy is a strong character, loving and kind, who comes to rely on her mother’s words of wisdom to get through hard times. She faces desperate situations and terrible losses, but finds ways to maintain happiness and find joy. It is also a look at a time and place that is drastically different from our own, in which a sixteen year old girl can be go off to work a few miles away and not know if she will ever see or speak to her family again.