A Drop of Hope is a sweet story about the small town of Cliffs Donnelly, Ohio (although someone has vandalized the sign leading into the town so that it reads: If Only, Ohio). Cliffs Donnelly, like so many other small towns in the U.S., is barely surviving; the factory that employs many of the inhabitants is in danger of closing and times are hard for almost everyone. In a lesson about folklore Mr. Earle, the 6th Grade teacher, tells his students of an old town legend about the well in the North Side Park: Ezekiel Thompkins, tossed in a coin and wished to exchange his health for the terrible illness afflicting his infant grandson. Because the child lived and Ezekiel died that night, the “Thompkins” well acquired a somewhat mythical reputation for miracles. Ernest, Ryan and Lizzy are sixth graders with very different backgrounds whose lives intertwine with each other and the legend of the Thompkins Well to affect changes, large and small, in their beleaguered town. What results is a string of miracles…or coincidences…or hoaxes–depending on your perspective.
The pessimistic, grumpy side of me wants to be cynical about this story–but I can’t. The title–A Drop of Hope–is actually a fitting description of the story, itself. It is a collection of acts of kindness and compassion in the face of anger and fear, which seems an apt metaphor for much of what is happening around us in the world at the present. A Drop of Hope is a little bit like a pointillist painting: close up the various intersecting lives and plethora of coincidences seem awkward and improbable, but if you alter your perspective to one farther away, you begin to see patterns and purpose that lend these characters and their lives a remarkable genuineness.
Having said that, I will say that the structure of the story sometimes makes it hard to follow. The chapters are broken up into short vignettes–which is a great idea to help readers move quickly through the story, but the viewpoint changes so often among so many different characters that some get lost in the overarching concept of the story. Ernest and Ryan–and to some extent, Lizzy–are distinctly formed three-dimensional characters and their individual storylines are easy to track. It is a struggle to keep track of all the secondary (and tertiary) characters whose brief stories are interspersed with our main three characters. Sometimes I would have to flip back and forth to remember who a character was when he or she appeared a second time.
All in all, A Drop of Hope is a feel-good read in all the best ways. It was a 3.5/5 star read for me. If the somewhat disjointed structure and vast number of characters doesn’t really bother you, it makes a great independent or read-aloud choice for middle grade readers.