Stephanie Blake's The Marble Queen is an honest, amusing, and surprisingly poignant look at the coming of age of experiences one little girl in 1959 struggles and triumphs through.Ten year old Freedom Jane McKenzie isn't the kind of little girl her mother wants her to be. Freedom rather play marbles with the boys then play with Barbies or have tea parties. But Freedom is determined to win the marble competition at the Autumn Jubilee and be the first Marble Queen...that is, if her momma gives her permission to enter. And her momma has more important things to deal with, like the new baby on the way, Freedom's trouble making little brother Higgie, Freedom's drunk of a daddy, and an eccentric neighbor. Freedom and her mother constantly disagree about what's important and who Freedom should be, but they both learn that maybe they're both a little wrong and right.Stephanie Blake has crafted a story that is filled with a lot of heart, humor, and honesty. The Marble Queen isn't a simple story by any means and often deals with very real and very serious material (heavy drinking, unstable marriages, abuse, affairs, etc), but does so with sensitivity and in a way that is appropriate for its intended audience. The young heroine, Freedom, is impossible not to like and root for. Blake's story, characters, and storytelling skills make for an affective and captivating combination.The Marble Queen is a contemporary middle-grade book set in a small town in 1959, and Blake brings this time period to life with rich details, pop cultural references, and a story that stays true to its setting. Readers will feel like they've been transported back to the fifties and be completely immersed in this not so simple time. Blake's world-building is superb and feels very complete; she has created a very realistic and detailed small town community, with real people, traditions, and places.I really loved Freedom! She is such an endearing, plucky, relatable, and funny girl. The way she faces obstacles with determination and outside of the box thinking is inspiring, while her honest and clever observations are wildly amusing. Blake has done a great job of creating very realistic characters, from charming Freedom to a stressed out mother, curious little Higgie, a father that drinks too much, a lonely old neighbor, gossiping townsfolk, and meanie boys.The Marble Queen is about so much more than marble playing (although the marble playing is important and fun!), it's about growing up, figuring out who you are and who you want to be, and about learning to accept the flaws in the people you love. And Blake has captured this all so well! By the end of the book I was completely enchanted by Freedom and impressed with Blake's story-weaving ways.MY FINAL THOUGHTS: Freedom Jane McKenzie is an unforgettable heroine with a truly memorable and poignant story. A story that author Stephanie Blake has spun with sparkling and shining talent.