Mr. Samuel’s Penny
It’s 1972 and fourteen-year-old New Yorker Elizabeth Landers is sent to the sleepy town of Ahoskie, North Carolina to spend the summer with relatives. Her expectation of boredom is quickly dispelled when police sirens and flashing lights draw her to a horrible scene at the Danbury Bridge. Mr. Samuel, owner of Samuel’s Lumber Yard, has driven his car off the bridge and into the river, drowning himself and his daughter. The medical examiner thinks it’s an accident, but the Sheriff finds fresh bullet holes on the bridge right where the skid marks are. Curiously, Mr. Samuel died clutching a unique 1909 wheat penny—a penny that is then stolen from the Sheriff’s office. Lizbeth witnesses Miss Violet’s grief upon learning that her husband and child are dead, and decides she will help by finding the penny.
Her search involves Lizbeth in the lives of many Ahoskie residents. Like the owner of the grocery store, mean old Mr. Jake, who—as all the kids in Ahoskie know—hates black folks. Plenty of pennies in his till. Then there is Ms. Melanie Neely, otherwise known as “Ms. McMeanie,” who thinks the lumber yard should belong to heAnd Mr Samuel’s handsome brother Ben, who struggles to keep the business afloat after his more clever brother’s death. Lizbeth searches through the collection plates at church and in the coin jars of crazy old Aunt Ode, a strange old woman missing one eye and most of her teeth, who keeps a flask in her apron pocket and a secret in her soul.
Author’s bio: Treva Hall Melvin, has been a practicing attorney in all levels of government as a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. A native New Yorker, she graduated from Villanova Law School in Pennsylvania and now lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband, their two children, and their dog Audrey. She loves athletics and antiquing.
Mr. Samuel’s Penny: Treva Hall Melvin
A car goes over a bridge and two lives are taken. The old bridge needs work and the people of Ahoskie would never be the same. Joseph Samuel and his daughter Emma just wanted to cross the bridge one more time but someone made sure it would be his last. In a world where prejudice and racism reigned during a highly volatile time period a young 14 year old girl named Elizabeth would spend a summer with her family in North Carolina and come away with many new friends, learn lessons that you cannot learn in school and realize that “Not everything you see it what it seems.” But, Elizabeth would learn more than just what this saying means before the end of the summer. She would learn the true meanings of love, understanding, second chances, circumstances, forgiveness and how blacks and whites can live together.
Elizabeth is smart and she saw what happened to Mr. Samuel and realized that in his hand when he died was a shiny Lincoln Wheat Penny that was bagged with the rest of his effects in order to investigate the case and find out what really happened. But, although it was deemed an accident and everyone thought Mr. Samuel drove his car over the bridge, the evidence would later show that it was murder. But, who and why will surprise readers as the mystery unfolds in a very different and unique way.
Elizabeth and her sister Lena are spending the summer with their Uncle Frank and Aunt Alice. But, along with this comes responsibility, chores, discipline and hard work. They are not there to just have fun, spend time with friends but to learn the meaning of family, love, respect and helping others. Aunt Alice is a cracker jack and you fall in love with her from the start as she teaches both sisters the right way to act, how to complete tasks but never once yells, shouts or belittles. But, Elizabeth would encounter many who were not tolerant, mean and even quite good at meaning hurtful to others because they felt they can. As we meet Mr. Jake the owner of what you might call the General Store where everyone purchases their goods, you see a side of a man that for appearances seems to dislike black people and can be quite abrupt and mean to black children. But, something changes within him when Miss Violet, Mr. Samuel’s wife comes into his store and wants to purchase groceries. The toughness, the meanness seems to disappear for the moment but poor Elizabeth seems to get the brunt of his anger when trying to just purchase what her aunt wants. But, that too would change in an unexpected way.
Elizabeth is determined to find that wheat penny that belonged to Miss Violet’s husband and return it to her. But, not before she tries to look into every jar, purse, change pouch she can find to locate this single penny. Determined and definitely not going to give up she even offers to count the church offerings just to find this penny.
Lizabeth is Liz as she liked to be called wanted to live in a world where she would feel safe and not have to worry about the color of her skin. Thinking that white people would want to take her life just because she was black was unfortunately how so many thought and felt during this time period. But, she would learn many other harsh truths and realities before leaving her aunt and uncle are home and returning home.
Mr. Jake seemed to her mean, nasty and unfeeling but she would learn that not everyone is really what they seem and actions often speak much louder than words when she finds herself surrounded by some tough boys who want to steal her bike. Standing up for herself not backing down she presented a picture of someone that would not take defeat easily. But, sometimes things happen and situations change as Mr. Jake came to her aid in a most unusual way and from that point on both of their lives changed.
Relationships are often seen in many different ways, as Miss Violet becomes part of her family’s life and hers too. But, the way Mr. Jake reacts to her when she comes into his store is quite remarkable and Liz cannot help but notice and ask about it. Always questioning, never taking things a face value she is quite inquisitive and often does not think before she speaks which at times endears her to some but not to others.
Learning more about Miss Violet and about her Aunt Ode and her early life helps her to understand why her aunt hovers over both of them and wants them in their lives. Family unity is very important and she and her sister are sent to spend time with their grandparents and an unfortunate accident occurs and things spiral out of control.
Not everyone is what they seem and Liz although she wants to find this special penny finds herself hunting for something more. Mr. Ben was Mr. Samuel’s brother and their relationship was not that close as the author enlightens readers into their past and why.
Mr. Jake proves to be more than an ally to Liz as she now works for him at his store and have become a very important part of his life. When a young boy comes in a steals food and Mr. Jake does not stop him Liz gets a lesson in respect, understanding and hope. A young boy just trying to care for his siblings because his parents are always getting drunk and leaving them alone and uncared for. But, within this story there is much more that we learn about many different kinds of abuse, many different kinds of prejudice and the true mean of family love and understanding. As the author relates Aunt Ode’s story, Miss Violet’s outburst when realizing all that she lost and the horrific way Melanie McMeanie ends up at the end and why anyone would even care, readers learn that not everyone or everything is cut and dry and sometimes we need to look away from the bad and focus on the good. But, Lizabeth continues to search through plates at church, her Aunt Ode’s coin jars and anywhere else to find that precious penny.
Does she find it and where you won’t believe? Who killed Mr. Samuel and why? What happens when a fourteen-year-old girl persists until she solves the one mystery that started it all and finds herself face to face with a killer? Mr. Samuel’s Penny: more valuable than you know! As the ending of the story draws to a close the author provides several twists that you won’t expect. Relationships change, perceptions are altered and one young fourteen-year-old girl’s life will change forever. To find out how: Read Mr. Samuel’s Penny!
Fran Lewis: Reviewer