Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede
Scholastic Press, 2009 (first edition); 344 pages
Set in an alternate-history America, this is the story of Eff (short for Francine), a thirteenth child. In this magical culture, birth order is commonly thought to affect one's life, with a seventh son considered lucky, the seventh son of a seventh son extremely lucky, and a thirteenth child cursed. People are so biased against Eff that her family moves West, where no one knows that she has the potential to become a very bad person. (Eff's oldest siblings were married and didn't move, so people couldn't just count children and figure it out.) In the West, Eff grows up and learns about herself and the person she is meant to be.
More than any other part of this book, I want to know more about the alternate history. Why was the Civil War fought in the 1830s? Why did the Lewis and Clark expedition fail? Why are mammoths and saber-toothed cats not extinct? It's not that Wrede does a bad job of explaining her alternate history, it's more as if the characters don't think to explain because to them nothing is different. To them, their history is real and ours is the alternate, so they just talk about things matter-of-factly and in passing, as if we all know what they're talking about. It really adds to the realism, but it's also frustrating.
As for the rest of the plot, I found it a bit dull. Thirteenth Child covers quite a few years of Eff's life at a very rapid pace, not really allowing for a lot of character development beyond what's necessary for the plot. If I hadn't been so interested in the history, I probably would have found the book harder to finish. However, my younger self would have loved it.