When a family member goes missing or dies, it affects everyone in the family, and Georgie's family in One Came Home has experienced both, from the mystery of what happened to Pa in Colorado to the mystery of what happened to Agatha.
Georgie's journey to find out what happened to Agatha is really an attempt to keep her family together and to heighten her own sense of security. Georgie wants to stay home, near Ma and Grandfather Bolte, and she wants Agatha to want that, too, so much so that she disapproves of Agatha's relationship with Billy until it's over, and then sabotages Agatha's relationship with Mr. Olmstead. Her quest to prove Agatha is alive is part of an ongoing attempt to keep her family together, exactly as it is—and part of her journey is accepting that families change.
Georgie's refusal to accept Agatha's death is a projection of her feelings about her father's disappearance.
Of all her family members, Georgie is closest to Grandfather Bolte.
What's a Western without some good old-fashioned violence, right? Answer: Probably not a Western. In One Came Home, we start out with a violent death that leads Georgie out on the trail, where she encounters violence from nature, herself, and other characters. Georgie's search for her sister leads Billy and her into a shootout with counterfeiters, in which Georgie earns quite a reputation as a thirteen-year-old hoyden/devil/sharpshooter.
This book has the kind of violence, though, in which the good guys (and girls) always pull through: Georgie's sister turns out to be alive, and against all odds, Georgie wins her fight with the counterfeiters. Phew.
Georgie's violent encounter with the counterfeiters, in which she faces her own mortality, finally leads her to accept Agatha's death.
In One Came Home, many intentional acts of violence begin with chance encounters.
Like peanut butter and jelly or Sonny and Cher, guilt and blame just seem to go together, and that's never more true than when the sister whose engagement you just broke up winds up dead. This whole guilty conscience thing is interesting in One Came Home: Georgie knows she did wrong by telling Mr. Olmstead about Billy and Agatha's kiss, and she even admits it many times… all while trying to find a way to absolve herself.
In the end, though, Billy and Mr. Olmstead both admit that they, too, have a part in Agatha's disappearance—though perhaps not quite as great a part as Agatha herself does.
Billy, Mr. Olmstead, and Grandfather Bolte are as much to blame for Agatha's disappearance as Georgie is.
Georgie deserves Agatha's disappearance after meddling in her sister's business.
If there's one thing Georgie has, it's confidence in her abilities, specifically when those abilities involve shooting and selling. We hear a million times what a good shot she is, and about half a million times what a good salesperson she is. Usually she's the one telling us, but sometimes others, like Billy and Grandfather Bolte, chime in.
Georgie latches on to both of these skills as real parts of her identity in, which is why what happens at the end of One Came Home is interesting: Georgie totally gives up her shooting in favor of running the store. In a sense, she gives up half of who she is in favor of the other half.
Georgie's skills in shooting and selling are major parts of her relationship with Grandfather Bolte.
Georgie's rejection of shooting at the end is evidence of her newfound maturity.
Ah, dreams. Everyone's got one, which is why posters with rainbows, kittens, and an inspirational quote about dreams on them exist in the first place. Duh.
In One Came Home, we see a lot of tension between Agatha's dreams, hopes, and plans for herself, and other people's dreams, hopes, and plans for her. In fact, this conflict is what leads her to run away—from Georgie, from Grandfather Bolte, and from Billy McCabe. She finally realizes the only person who can make her dreams come true is herself, but as we find in the course of the novel, making those dreams come true comes at a price.
Georgie and Agatha are both so determined to achieve their dreams that they often ignore the feelings and desires of other characters.
Georgie's dream of running the store with her sister and Agatha's dream of going to college and leaving Placid are fundamentally incompatible.
Pigeons. Pigeons, pigeons, pigeons. It makes us think of this scene from Forrest Gump, except instead of shrimp, we're talking about pigeons. The interaction of people and pigeons forms the thematic and symbolic structure for One Came Home. People exploit pigeons—the way they exploit each other—and they also hope for pigeons, kill pigeons, eat pigeons, admire pigeons, and tell stories about pigeons. Pigeons are a big deal, and they're the main way we learn about each character: for instance, Agatha studies them and Georgie hunts them. Think on that.
The pigeon nesting is profitable, but it also causes destruction of the forests around Placid; in this way, it is a symbol of the tension between life and death in the book.
Georgie's feelings about the natural world and her place in it change significantly over the course of the novel.
It just makes sense that death, called here by its fancier name, mortality, would be a big deal in a book where most of the plot involves the supposed death of the main character's sister and said main character's attempt to come to terms with that by essentially going on a road trip, 19th-century style. However, Agatha's alleged death isn't the only place this theme comes up in One Came Home.
Georgie starts out by contemplating the permanence of death, which leads her to question her position on hunting and killing animals. And this leads her to question her right to end any life, even if she thinks someone "deserves" it. Eventually she concludes that she doesn't want to be part of ending life, perhaps because she has dealt with Agatha's disappearance, Grandfather Bolte's death, and the deaths of many fire victims. It's a lot, and whether she sticks with it long term or not, we totally get why she wants a break.
While Georgie's trip to Dog Hollow appears to be a means for her to accept Agatha's death, in fact it is a journey on which she learns to accept death itself.
The false death of Agatha at the beginning of the novel prepares Georgie to deal with the body count at the end.
If there's one thing Georgie likes to dwell on more than how her sister isn't dead in One Came Home, it's how long she's known her sister isn't dead. No joke, Georgie pauses a lot to let us know just how long it's been since certain events occurred, and how long it seems like it's been. In other words, she addresses both the actual and the perceived nature of time. Georgie connects time to human constructs like months, but it's also connected to natural processes like the pigeon nesting. All this consideration of time lends a sense of urgency to Georgie's journey. The clock is always ticking.
Georgie's obsession with how long ago things happened derives from her desire to go back and change events.
Life events of great significance change Georgie's perception of time.