Sheila O’Connor, author of the middle-grade epistolary novel, Until tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth, may inspire an entire generation to write letters. Remember letters? The kind you needed an actual piece of paper and a pen for and then put in an envelope with a stamp and mailed?
Until tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth is the story of Reeny Kelly, an 11-almost 12-year old girl who has recently moved to Lake Liberty, Minnesota with her brothers, Dare and Billy to live with their grandmother. Their mother has recently died from cancer and Reeny’s father, strapped with years of crushing medical bills, has gone to North Dakota for work. Reeny misses her mother, her father, and having friends. It is 1968 and the Vietnam draft is in full swing. Reeny’s brother Billy is forced to take a job working at a gas station because of the family’s financial situation, instead of going away to college as he’d planned and he’s fearful he’ll be drafted. Dare and Reeny share a paper route and save every cent toward Billy’s college education. Reeny believes that college is Billy’s only hope of staying out of the war.
Reeny introduces herself to each customer on her route, except for the reclusive Mr. Marsworth, a pacifist, WWI conscientious objector much maligned by the folks in Lake Liberty. Reeny begins a written correspondence with Mr. Marsworth that reveals her hopes and dreams as well as Mr. Marsworth’s pain and loss. It is a charming exchange that develops into a true friendship. Reeny is also a pen pal with Skip, a soldier serving in servicemen and civilians.
When Billy writes a letter to the editor of Lake Liberty’s paper stating his objection to the war, the Kelly’s experience the violence of a community divided. Through it all, Mr. Marsworth is a voice of reason, encouraging Reeny to take the path of peaceful resistance, though there are times that she can’t help but fight back.
Until tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth is as much about the resiliency of a family as it is about war, it is about finding family in unlikely places, and standing up for what you believe in. Author Sheila O’Connor writes, “While this was never meant to be a book about a war, I hope in some small way it has become a book of peace. Inspired by the peacemakers, the conscientious objectors, the brave activists who are punished or imprisoned, the marchers, the letter writers, the justice seekers, the poets and the dreamers.”
O’Connor has written a love letter to our youth, a book that will provoke meaningful conversations between kids and their adults, and a book that will inspire future peacemakers and encourage a new generation of activists.