Set in 1954, this compelling historical novel tells the story of a young girl’s struggles and triumphs in the aftermath of World War II. The war is over, but the threat of communism and the Cold War loom over the United States. In Detroit, Michigan, twelve-year-old Marjorie Campbell struggles with the ups and downs of family life, dealing with her veteran father’s unpredictable outbursts, keeping her mother’s stash of banned library books a secret, and getting along with her new older “brother,” the teenager her family took in after his veteran father’s death. When a new girl from Germany transfers to Marjorie’s class, Marjorie finds herself torn between befriending Inga and pleasing her best friend, Bernadette, by writing in a slam book that spreads rumors about Inga. Marjorie seems to be confronting enemies everywhere—at school, at the library, in her neighborhood, and even in the news. In all this turmoil, Marjorie tries to find her own voice and figure out what is right and who the real enemies actually are.
Includes an author’s note and bibliography.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Racism; Prejudice; Xenophobic epithets; Descriptions of World War II atrocities
Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2017)
Poet Holbrook brings back the Cold War in her debut novel for middle grades. White sixth-grader Marjorie has lots to worry about in the late winter of 1954. Her father came back from World War II jumpy and abrupt. She’s not a fan of Frank, the 18-year-old orphan her father took in, or Carol Anne, her skittish 6-year-old sister. She’s best friends with Bernadette, also white, who rules the sixth grade and would make the world’s worst enemy, and she just got assigned to share a school desk with Inga, a “displaced person” whom Bernadette has decided to hate. Inga came to Detroit from Canada, but she speaks, sounds, and looks German. Marjorie is drawn to Inga, who’s sunny, determined, and kind, but she’s afraid to befriend her. Meanwhile Sen. Joe McCarthy’s national hunt for Communists has led to the banning of many books from public libraries; in defiance of her husband’s direct orders, Marjorie’s mother hides a box of rescued banned books under Marjorie’s bed. Holbrook pulls elements of the story from her own multicultural childhood in Detroit after the war. She’s ace at delineating the petty jealousies and tyrannies of middle school girls, and her evocation of the era feels absolutely true. Marjorie’s cowardice and ultimate courage lead to a rousingly satisfying ending that, if it doesn’t quite tie up all the plot threads, will resonate with readers. A solid fictional examination of a time rarely depicted for this age group. (Historical fiction. 10-14)
Publishers Weekly (January 16, 2017)
As 12-year-old Marjorie Campbell navigates the standard awkwardness and small cruelties of sixth-grade life in 1954, she is increasingly plagued by questions. Should she befriend the new girl in school, who claims to be from Canada but seems undeniably German? Should she participate in the slam book her supposed best friend Bernadette has initiated? What about the books her college-educated, independent-thinking mother smuggled out of the library and stashed under Marjorie’s bed? Does wearing a red scarf make her a Commie sympathizer, as Bernadette asserts? And what’s worse, anyway, a Nazi or a Commie? Holbrook (Weird? [Me, Too!] Let’s Be Friends) brings home the complexities of the Cold War era in a multicultural Detroit neighborhood where neighborliness and name-calling coexist. With a WWII veteran father with PTSD and an annoying fatherless teenage boy living in her family’s basement, Marjorie is a sympathetic character whose struggles to understand fear and prejudice, as embodied in her friends and family, resonate sharply in today’s political climate. An author’s note explains Holbrook’s personal connections to the story and offers further historical detail about the era. Ages 10-14. (Mar.)
About the Author
Sara Holbrook is the author of multiple poetry books for children published by WordSong/Boyds Mills Press, including Zombies! Evacuate the School!, Weird? (Me, Too!), and Wham! It’s a Poetry Jam. This is her first novel. She lives in Mentor, Ohio.
Her website is www.saraholbrook.com.
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