Kephart has crafted a deeply satisfying tale that’s richly evocative of its time and place.
Playing masterfully with words, knitting them into new and deliciously expressive forms, Kephart’s story is one of loss and then redemption. William Quinn is only 14. With his father in the Cherry Hill prison and his genially wayward older brother, Francis, recently beaten to death by a brutal policeman, his mother has ground herself into unbearable, paralyzing grief, and the boy has to find a way to save them both. He has help from many: Career, his cheerfully ambitious best friend; Pearl, a good-hearted prostitute; Molly, a neighbor child who’s deeply smitten with Career; a wayward goat named Daisy; and the abiding memory of Francis. Gradually, William finds a way to make right some terrible wrongs that are only revealed at a perfectly measured pace. Stark, spare illustrations provide an effective counterpoint to the flowing, poetic language. Against the 1871 Philadelphia setting (five years before the related Dangerous Neighbors, 2010), a faultlessly depicted world of sound, energy and ample filth, the fully developed characters of William and Career are trapped in a bleakly hopeless situation. But they never fully give up hoping. Like the very best of historical fiction, this effort combines a timeless tale with a vividly recreated, fascinating world.
An outstanding and ultimately life-affirming tale. (Historical fiction. 11 & up)