Coming of age means coming to terms with death in this two-hankie departure from Hart’s more facile Annie Darling and Henrie O series (April Fool Dead, 2002, etc.).
While her widowed mom is off working in a defense plant in Tulsa in 1944, high-schooler Gretchen Gilmore is living with her granny in a tiny Oklahoma town, three houses down from the Tatums. Clyde is in the service, and gossip puts the freewheeling Faye at the Blue Light roadhouse, dancing and what-all, most nights. The what-all riles the townfolk, who label her a slut, and when her daughter Barb and Gretchen find Faye strangled, everyone else insists she got what was coming to her, undoubtedly from Clyde, who was home on leave. When Gretchen writes an article for the Gazette praising Faye, she’s ostracized, compounding her sense of isolation: Her mom has a new beau and even less time for her, and her granny is secretly slipping away to meet with Clyde. An anonymous note draws the sheriff to the abandoned Purdy cabin, where Clyde lies dead, a suicide message near to hand. So matters rest for decades until the much-divorced Barb, a grieving mom, writes to much-honored newspaper reporter Gretchen and arranges a meeting to explain all the mysteries of their young lives.
Even hard-hearted readers who quibble that the plot is slender and transparent will be touched by Gretchen’s bruising encounters with wartime morality and Hart’s ’40s rendition of rationing, manless households, and feminine gumption.