Twelve-year-old Abilene Tucker has no memory of her mother; she has only her father, Gideon. Since she was a small child, she has been secure in his love and has not at all minded the hardscrabble, itinerant life they shared. Recently, though, things have begun to change. While riding in a boxcar one day with her daddy, Abilene hurt her knee badly, and the resulting infection almost killed her. Gideon concluded that the little he had to offer was “not fit living for a girl [her] age,” so with little explanation he put his beloved daughter on a train to Manifest, the small Kansas town where he had once lived.
Abilene arrives in Manifest in May 1936 with little more than “her traveling pack and a good head on her shoulders.” She carries a few mementos of her past life, the most precious of which is her father’s compass, which is inscribed with the words “St. Dizier, October 8, 1918.” Gideon has arranged for her to stay with Shady Howard, a close-mouthed, mysterious man whom Abilene nonetheless senses she can trust.
Shady lives in a quirky abode that is a cross between a church and a saloon. Beneath a loose floorboard in the small but cozy room he has prepared for her, Abilene discovers an old cigar box that contains a pack of letters, a map of the town, a fishing lure, a Liberty Head silver dollar, and a skeleton key, among other things. When Abilene reads the first letter, she finds that it was written by a boy named Ned Gillen to someone affectionately called Jinx. Ned is going away and is leaving Jinx his treasures. Ned asks Jinx to “keep watch on the homefront” and has drawn up a map of Manifest so Jinx “will know what is important.”
Although Gideon never exactly said he would return, Abilene holds onto the belief that Gideon will come for her by summer’s end. In a fit of desolation during her first night in town, she asks Shady how far Manifest is from where Gideon is working in Des Moines, Iowa. Shady replies that though he does not know exactly, he is certain
a fella in Des Moines can see the same moon you are looking at right now.
Abilene tries to ease her longing for her father during the long summer days by searching for evidence of his past in Manifest. Because she is certain she will be leaving soon, she tries to remain detached from the people in her new surroundings but...
(The entire section is 2321 words.)
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