SECRET CITY, U.S.A. by Felice Holman
Kirkus Star


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Two friends from the barrio of a large eastern city fix up an abandoned house as a refuge for some of their neighborhood's homeless. After his grandfather's death, 13-year-old Benno feels rudderless: in his large family, squeezed into a cramped tenement, ""JoJo"" was his one source of inspiration and conscience. ""Pioneering"" was JoJo's idea; and though classic new worlds are beyong his reach, Benno realizes that the concept is applicable. Braving packs of vicious dogs and the menacing Poison Gang, he and his friend Moon--a thoughtful boy whose firm grasp on ideas rather than words was born of his parents' deafness--explore a nearby area left ""bombed out"" by poverty and the wrecker's ball. There, a little community begins to grow: a Haitian orphan who's been living on the street; oversize Louie and his tiny brother, who hope to make it south to their grandmother if their mother ever gets out of the hospital. Each has a talent to contribute--one of Moon's young cousins from Puerto Rico even starts a vegetable garden--and Benno, who imagines himself as their president, learns about responsibility and cooperation as well as leadership. In the end, rescuing an old man living in a nearby cellar leads to adult intervention and a hopeful conclusion--one as heart-warming as it is tragically implausible. Yet hope is an essential ingredient of constructive change; perhaps Benno's luck will inspire other urban pioneers to challenge political ""realities."" Holman (Slake's Limbo, 1974) again presents a moving, beautifully written novel about society's underside. Her portrayal of the inner city is vivid, poetic, and unblinkingly authentic.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1990
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Scribners