The Lilac Tunnel: My Journey with Samantha

Published in 2014; author Erin Falligant; illustrators Julie Kolesova and Michael Dwornik

"My Journey" books

These are choose-your-own adventure books written from a first person perspective. Just for ease, I'm going to always pick the first option when I come them, but I'll try to mention the other possible endings. Since the reader is meant to insert herself into the story, the main character (a modern-day pre-teen) isn't named. Since it would sound to weird to me to summarize the story as, "and then (Historical Characters) and I saw a..." I will use the author's first name, in this case, Erin.


Erin has just arrived at her father's home in suburbs of New York City. He recently remarried, and while Erin's stepmother and five-year-old stepsister Gracie are nice enough, Erin is feeling resentful that she has to give up part of her summer to be at her dad's house. Why did her parents get divorced, anyway? In an effort to catalyze their bonding, Erin's stepmother gives her an heirloom pendant. It belonged to her grandmother, who gave it to her when she was having a rough time. Erin accepts it politely, but declines to offer to leave the bedroom (which she has to share with Gracie) to scrapbook with her stepmother and stepsister. She looks over the pendant, popping it open to see if there are any pictures inside. No pictures, but suddenly Erin's falling and lands, of all places, in some shrubbery. She grabs the pendant again and is back in her room. Fascinated, Erin opens the pendant again.

She's back in the bushes. Upon closer inspection, it's a lilac bush, part of a hedge between two ornate houses. She's able to watch from her hiding place as a boy comes out of one house and a girl from the other, following a woman who carries a heavy rug and hangs it up to beat the dust from it. Suddenly, the boy spots her--and grabs her pendant! Erin tries to get it back, and is glad when the other, who is now also in the lilac bush, backs her up, demanding the boy give back the pendant. He relents, and the two girls are alone in the tunnel in the bushes. The girl is Samantha Parkington. The woman cleaning the rug is not Samantha's mother, as Erin first assumed, but the maid. Samantha's rich! But as Samantha reveals, she's also an only child and an orphan (i.e.; only children aren't "lonely children" but in Samantha's circumstances, she feels especially alone with her parents gone). Just then Elsa, the maid, comes up demanding to know who Erin is. Is she laundry maid that was supposed to come a few weeks from now? Or is she, as Samantha guesses, a girl who was bike riding, judging by her "bloomer" (unlike the other characters, Erin's clothes didn't change into era-appropriate ones and she's in a t-shirt and capris).

First choice: agree that she's the laundry maid to ensure she sees more of Samantha's home, or agree that she was bike riding

Erin says she's the laundry girl, hoping to see inside Samantha's wealthy home. Elsa takes her inside and Erin notes how spacious the kitchen is--in part because there's no microwave, dishwasher, or refrigerator. It's still lovely and fancy. But things get awkward very quickly; the lady of the house (Samantha's grandmother) a very proper lady, and Erin knows her causal clothes don't fit in. But Erin is taken on as the laundry girl. When Samantha's grandmother offers her a dollar a week for wages, Erin is taken aback. It's then she notices a calendar with 1904 printed on it. She's gone back in time more than a century. Samantha has followed Erin and Elsa inside, and senses there's something odd about Erin. She asks Erin if she's "on her own."

Next choice: go along with Samantha's assumption or say something about her family

Elsa is dismayed that the laundry girl is an orphan--she's sure she'll have to take care of a child in addition to her other duties now. But Samantha's grandmother repeats her instructions to show Erin to her room and get her proper clothes. After all, it's not her fault her parents died. Erin is soon in an uncomfortable grey dress with a starched white apron. Elsa asks if she's done much laundry before, and takes her silence as evidence that she won't know what to do (a fair assumption; Erin rarely uses the washer and dryer on her own, much less their 1904 counterparts). Elsa sets out to find another way for Erin to help.

Next choice: set the table or fold napkins

Erin fumbles with how to arrange the array of silverware. There are multiple forks and spoons of varying sizes. Elsa has to help her, and with other tasks. The one tasks Erin feels competent in, picking flowers for a centerpiece, even goes awry when Samantha strikes up a conversation--Erin is there to work, not socialize. She ends up spilling ashes all over a carpet, and of course there's no vacuum cleaner. When the dinner guests are about to arrive, Elsa takes Erin up to her room on the third floor, warning her to stay out of sight. After an hour or two, Erin is growing increasingly hungry. Surely the dinner guests are gone by now.

Next choice: sneak downstairs or stay in her room

Creeping into the kitchen, Erin grabs a slice of bread and is immediately caught by Elsa. After a severe scolding, she's sent back to her room. In the morning, Samantha's grandmother calls Erin into her parlor, and announces she's arranging for Erin to be sent back, to go on the orphan train out west. Samantha is appalled, but her grandmother has made her decision. Samantha is determined to find another option though, and has an idea: if Erin can get a job in a factory, she'll be able to stay in a factory boarding house. Of course, Erin could just return home, and without being noticed if she's on the orphan train. But looking for a factory job would mean spending more time with Samantha.

Next choice: get a factory job or leave for the orphan train

Samantha is able to convince her grandmother to call a factory foreman, who agrees that Erin can start at seven the next morning. This leaves the rest of the day open for fun with Samantha. But all too soon it's the next day, and the factory work conditions are a bit below OSHA standards. Erin is horrified that children her age can't attend school, aren't allowed to talk while they work, can't have breaks until lunch, and are even locked in the workroom. She pens a note to Samantha, explaining that she has a home waiting for her and she must go, but she'll never forget the brief friendship she shared with her. Erin returns to modern times, grateful that she has a loving family.

About Samantha's Time

The early 1900s was known as the Age of Confidence, because so many new inventions and discoveries were making the world seems safer and better. Understanding how disease is transmitted, for example, lead to better health care; and mechanization brought down the cost of goods so more people could afford luxuries (or even necessities). Not everything was so rosy; while women and girls enjoyed more freedom than in the past, women still couldn't vote for another fifteen years. And of course not everyone was upper class, like Samantha. The poor still struggled, often working long hours in the factories for little pay. And while germs were understood, medicine was still catching up: there weren't many vaccines for common and dangerous diseases, and antibiotics wouldn't be invented for a few more decades. There was still lots of progress to be made.


Dedicated to Nicki, Holly, Alex, and Kenley; "whose imaginations take us on great journeys."

This is set before any of Samantha's other books; she hasn't met Nellie yet.

In one storyline, Erin goes to a doctor due to the bump on her head she got when she first arrived in 1904. Another patient there has chicken pox, which Erin hasn't had. She's worried she might catch it, because Samantha and her grandmother tell her it's very contagious but you can only get it once. A girl who's about nine or ten in 2014 would have most likely been vaccinated for chicken pox, but wouldn't remember since that shot is given before the age of two. One ending does reveal that Erin was vaccinated, much to her relief (in another she doesn't think to ask).

Also in this storyline (hmm, I should have gone against my self-imposed "first choice" rule), is prescribed a new drug: aspirin. Samantha's grandmother doesn't really trust the new-fangled thing, instead giving Erin willow bark tea. Since 1986, aspirin has been recommended only for people over 18, as usage younger than that is correlated with Reye's syndrome. However, aspirin was originally derived from willow bark, so...

Some of the endings are online-only. So, these aren't good books to take anywhere without an internet connection.

Some other possible endings: agreeing to be taken to the orphan almost ends in disaster when Erin notices she's left her pendant at Samantha's home, but Samantha is able to retrieve it just in time, allowing Erin get back to her father's house, grateful for the loving family she has and ready to get to know the new members; going to Piney Point for a day when Samantha is on vacation can lead to helping Samantha learn more about her late mother which gives Erin an appreciation for her family; visiting a turn-of-the-century doctor can reveal how far privileges for women have come and hope for more equality (there's a woman doctor, which flabbergasts Samantha's grandmother, it later leads to discussion about "proper" ladies not working); a midnight swim with Samantha and her aunt Cornelia can be similarly inspiring, as Cornelia is very progressive; not failing miserably as a laundry girl (aside from briefly being wrongly accused of stealing jewelry) earns Erin a whole dollar, and a good work ethic; showing Samantha how to ride a bike inspires Erin to teach her stepsister the same, to bond with her; a few other endings also lead to better bonding with Gracie; overhearing a marriage proposal from the Admiral to Samantha's grandmother (which he does every summer) can lead to Erin vaguely reassuring Samantha; it can also lead to Erin talking about her stepfamily to more openly reassure Samantha; and one ending has Erin wondering her stepmother went back in time too--she plans to hint at it, and even if her stepmother isn't forthcoming, Erin is happy she'll have something to start a conversation with her stepmother to get to know her better.

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