Curl’s (Indigenous Peoples Day, 2017, etc.) novel tells of two young friends founding a club in McCarthy-era New York City.
In the Washington Heights section of Manhattan in 1951, fourth graders Gabe and Henry don’t like school, where some of the older boys pick on them and their teachers seem to have it out for them. They spend every afternoon playing in the Little Woods area of a nearby park and waiting for summer, when they’ll get to go to Gabe’s family farm in New Jersey for two weeks—a farm called “Maroon”: “like when your boat hits a rock in the middle of the ocean and you’re marooned on an island.” Goofing around in class lands them menial jobs in the principal’s office during recess, where they must work as “Vigilance Pad” monitors—part of a new program that encourages students to report “suspicious” activities to school authorities, such as “wearing a coat when it is warm, or taking pictures in an unusual way.” When Grampa’s farm is seized by the government to make way for a mall, Gabe and Henry are at a loss for what to do—until they discover a hidden room in a neighborhood apartment building. There, they set up a club with some other outcast kids from their class. Their covert activities and interactions with a rival group bring them unexpectedly into the adult world of anti-communist hysteria—and it could mean danger for Gabe and his family. Curl’s story is a throwback to an earlier era of children’s literature, composed of scenes of kids’ friendship and discovery that are connected by a loose and slow-moving plot. The prose is simple but well textured, effectively portraying the youth of the characters and their everyday activities: “With five of them in the group now, the shortcut down the wall was too risky, so they only used the long roundabout way through Fort Tryon Park under the fence.” Younger readers may find the political aspect a bit dull, but the author does effectively weave it into the narrative. Overall, many readers will find this story relatable.
A well-crafted tale with a retro style.