In her first outing for children, Saller (The Subversive Copy Editor, 2009) provides a poignant look at boyhood before and during the long years of World War II.
The novel in verse is a well-worked concept, but this effort infuses new life into a genre that's become almost trite. Eddie, just 5 years old as the story begins in 1934, lives contentedly in the glorious shadow of his older brother, Thomas. A few brief vignettes capture the flavor of the pre-war years, as Eddie befriends Jozef, an immigrant his Grama calls a gypsy, who carefully scans newspapers at the library, looking for the only word he can read: the name of his home in Poland, where his wife and son still live. Eddie comes to idolize his brother’s friend, Gabe, always the most reasonable of the older boys. Eventually, Thomas and Gabe enlist as the United States enters the war, and Eddie and his parents face the trial of never knowing if Thomas will live to come home. Prejudice against Jozef forces Eddie to make a hard choice to save the beleaguered man. In spare language and remarkably short sketches, carefully selected details effectively portray well-rounded, interesting characters, from Eddie’s abusive grandfather to his evolving love interest, Sarah.Much more an emotionally resonant coming-of-age tale than a war story, this will be an easy sell for those seeking a quick, excellent read. (Historical fiction. 11 & up)