It’s 1941, and Gusta, 11, has been sent—actually nearly abandoned—to the care of her grandmother in a small Maine town.
Her father, a German immigrant and labor organizer, is on the run from the law, and her mother is struggling financially in New York City, so it seems to make sense for Gusta to go to a loving, if a bit austere, grandmother who takes in foster children anyway. In Springdale, she meets chatty Josie, already in high school and seemingly the dominant one in the blur of foster children. If Gusta is to thrive in this strange new setting, it’ll be by virtue of her spirit—and perhaps her beloved French horn, which she plays with considerable talent. She, Josie, and a cousin, Bess, create their own small band. This leads, almost inevitably, to an unexpected clash with a wealthy mill owner, whose secret connection with Gusta’s aunt Marion threatens to derail Gusta in this immersive, character-driven tale. She’s believably caught between her desire to do what’s right, fighting back against growing prejudice against foreigners and unfair treatment of workers, and her need for comfort and security in an alien, sometimes-threatening new environment. Although the characters are white, this effort nicely captures the myriad faces of prejudice.
Sometimes suspenseful and always engaging, this snapshot of determined Gusta and life before the war is sure to captivate readers. (Historical fiction. 11-14)