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In her debut novel, Dzikowski explores the social and racial growing pains of mid-’60s America through the eyes of her plucky but impressionable sixth-grade heroine, Andi.

Orphaned at a very young age, Andi searches for proof of life after death in the hope of being reunited with her late parents. Along the way, she ventures across the invisible border between the white and black areas of her small town to befriend Ezra, wise owner of the bait shop and candy store, then teams up with her crush, John Malone, to hunt down the ghost of Abraham Lincoln—“living” proof of the afterlife—who is rumored to haunt their school auditorium. Dzikowski’s use of period detail adds texture and context to Andi’s world, from accounts of disciplinary “paddling” to the smell of fresh mimeograph ink and a gym class chorus of “Go, You Chicken Fat, Go!” Dzikowski incorporates history into her narrative without lecturing the reader, offering plenty of fresh, interesting Lincoln factoids. When Andi catches two male teachers in a compromising position, her bemusement is both age- and era-appropriate. The novel’s memorable supporting characters are carefully, quirkily drawn; schoolyard bully Bertha could easily be two-dimensional but garners understanding when readers learn her front teeth were demolished by a violent stepfather. Dzikowski never sentimentalizes her central character, allowing Andi to have dark moments, but, on occasion, the author veers from Andi’s point of view into an adult voice, narrating at one point, “Mr. Banner scooped her off the ground as tenderly as a stillborn baby.” Dzikowski throws one too many social issues into the mix when Andi overhears John admit to being molested by a priest. Dzikowski should trust her considerable talent. She doesn’t need to justify the actions of her brooding preteen bad boy by giving him a tragic back story; her characters are believable products of a violently segregated society struggling toward tolerance. A prologue introduces readers to Andi and John several decades after novel’s end, adding a heavy note of dread that doesn’t serve Dzikowski’s subtle storytelling. But these are nitpicks, not glaring faults. In her first novel, Dzikowski has created a world complete enough to transport the reader back in time and a spunky protagonist whose emotional journey breaks the heart.

Dzikowski’s poignant, engrossing historical novel vividly parallels the last brutal days of segregation with the experiences of a small town girl coming of age in a racist society.


Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0984030507
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Wiara
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2012


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