An aspiring young magician relocates to a camp for German prisoners of war in Abilene, Texas, in 1944 and inadvertently becomes part of a prisoner escape.
A native New Yorker, 11-year-old Max, her mother, and her ferret, Houdini, move to Camp Barkeley, where Max’s father’s in charge of captured German soldiers. White, Jewish Max doesn’t understand why her father’s “babysitting the Nazis.” Max muses to herself that “finding a kindred spirit here in cowboy land would be a magic trick even I wouldn’t believe.” Her smart mouth and superior attitude alienate classmates until the Gremlins, a group of misfits, adopt her. A prisoner named Felix convinces Max’s father to let her entertain prisoners with a magic show, and she accepts Felix’s offer to be in the final, vanishing act. When Felix disappears and other prisoners escape through a tunnel, Max feels responsible and participates in a series of dangerous plots to capture the escapees. Based on a real prisoner escape at the historic Camp Barkeley, this fictionalized version teems with kid pranks, friendly enemies, deceptive friends, and wartime xenophobia, all held together by a pushy heroine who “brings the magic.” Illustrated magic tricks add hands-on entertainment.
All the excitement, surprises, and tricks of a magic show. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 8-12)