Twelve-year-old Angie Wallace expects the summer of 1939 to be filled with hopscotch games, trips tho the beach, and playing kick the can until the moon comes out. She and her best friend, Geraldine, can't wait for the long days of freedom. But when the preacher's daughter, Reba Lu, moves in across the street, the three girls band together with another goal. They make a pact to "love thy neighbor," starting with their strangest neighbors, like Miss Emma, whose bedroom is filled with uncaged animals, and Dodie Crumper, a peculiar girl they need to avoid at all costs.
But as they move through their neighborly to-do list, Angie and her friends dan't help but notice that there's something strange about the return of a man named Jefferson Clement. He might seem well-dressed and respected, but each time they see him they become more convinced that he can't be trusted. The adults either don't notice, or don't want to notice, the danger he poses. That is, not until Angie learns a terrible truth and is left with a life-changing choice. Can she speak up, even when everyone else wants to look the other way?
Gr 4–6—Twelve-year-old Angie anticipates another routine yet carefree summer in her small California town. But it's 1939 and Hitler's rise to power in Europe, coupled with the return to town of Jefferson Clement, a seemingly popular WWI hero, soon have Angie asking a disturbing question: How can adults witness evil and not do anything about it? As Angie and her friends look for an answer, they uncover lurid secrets to which locals have turned a blind eye. Their search leads to a tragic confrontation that forces Angie to decide between truth, lies, and justice. Donahue creates a memorable pair of antagonists in glib Jefferson and affable ne'er-do-well Willie Jack: both are war heroes, but the townspeople judge them very differently. Jefferson and Willie Jack's role in the novel's climax and its aftermath further underscores a recurring theme of the dangers of false appearances. A leisurely pace, careful language, and a nostalgic tone blunt the novel's grave topic of child molestation, making it appropriate for younger readers or classroom discussion. An afterword challenges readers to put themselves in Angie's place and consider if they would make the same choices. Some comparisons Donahue poses to readers may tend toward the simplistic but align with the novel's gentle handling of a serious topic. VERDICT A thoughtful historical fiction and coming-of-age story; purchase for larger collections.
—Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY
“(A)n atmospheric coming-of-age story with plenty of plot twists and turns.”
—School Library Connection, starred review
“In lingering, evocative prose, this story is demonstratively reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, including a stifling courtroom inquiry of the town scapegoat and a girl's loss of innocence.”
“Donahue creates a memorable pair of antagonists…(t)he novel's climax and its aftermath further underscores a recurring theme of the dangers of false appearances. A leisurely pace, careful language, and a nostalgic tone…mak(e) it appropriate for younger readers or classroom discussion….(a)nd align with the novel's gentle handling of a serious topic. A thoughtful historical fiction and coming-of-age story.”
—School Library Journal
“This well-plotted… treatment of an important topic is sure to spark discussions.”
“(A)n interesting story. The historical aspect is well constructed…The exploration of how silence can perpetuate the actions of a known abuser and how a young teen can use her voice to end it conveys a powerful message.”