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Synopsis

“The nuns use this as their measuring stick: who your people are. Well, what if you don’t have no people? Or any you know of? What then? Are you doomed?”

This is the nagging question of fifteen-year-old Nell’s life. Born with a cleft palate and left a foundling on the doorstep of a convent, she yearns to know her mother, whose name, she knows, was Jane.

When the Mother Superior tries to pawn her off to a mean-looking farmer and his beaten-down wife, Nell opts for the only alternative she can see: she runs away.

A chance encounter with a dime novel exhorting the exploits of Calamity Jane, heroine of the west, gives Nell the purpose of her life: to find Calamity Jane, whom Nell is convinced is her mother.

Her quest takes her down rivers, up rivers and across the Badlands to Deadwood, South Dakota, and introduces her to Soot, a big, lovable black dog, and Jeremy Chatterfield, a handsome young Englishman who isn’t particular about how he makes his way, as long as he doesn’t have to work for it. Together they trek across the country meeting characters as wonderful and bizarre as the adventure they seek, learning about themselves and the world along the way.

You’ll take Nell with you to that special place in your memory where you keep the best characters. She’ll stick with you, beat you down, buoy you up, and teach you a thing or two about life. You’ll wonder at her stubborn determination, her patience and her courage, but you won’t forget her. Not for a long time.

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