by Anne Nesbet, published 2018
“Her father had a phrase for the way the sun catches things out against the darkness of a coming storm: the clear light of trouble, he called it.”
What led me to open this children’s book after a friend handed it to me, was the lovely illustration on the cover. What led me to start reading it page after page was the excellent writing. And what led me to wholeheartedly recommend this book is the powerful drama it creates. The book is so well-written that it pulls the reader into a different time and different world – a small town in Maine, pre-WWII. I was so immersed that when I stood up to go outside mid-reading, I literally couldn’t remember where I was. It is that engrossing.
There are no lack of important themes in this children’s book. I am not sure which ones to rank highest. Certainly, given the times we are living in right now, xenophobia is a huge, and painful theme to explore. History repeating itself over and over is never enjoyable, but for young readers, it is essential to realize that we’ve been here before, judging people based on nationality. The book doesn’t recommend any easy solutions, but at least it shows the ignorance of such behavior.
The other themes are there more for plot than to create a cultural shift, as they are part of the character’s make-up, and bring color to the story: labor unions, fairness, musical talent, and out-of-wedlock birth. The real drama, however, is Gusta’s fierce determination to stand tall, and survive the world she has been pushed into, living in a strange town, separated from her parents, and becoming somewhat of a scapegoat.
A well-written children’s book, I put it in the category of 11 years old and up.