A ghost girl’s narration weaves her own story with that of a tenacious orphan in World War II–era Chicago.
Teenage Frankie’s story is no more or less tragic than that of any other young person at her German Catholic orphanage: That is, it’s heartbreaking. She and her two siblings have a father who brings them gifts but claims he can’t afford to take them home and who eventually abandons them for a new family. But Frankie’s tenacious grip on hope draws attention from both her fellow orphans, including a beautiful, gentle boy with whom she shares an illicit prewar romance, and Pearl, the book’s ghost narrator, whose own tragic story slowly unfurls alongside Frankie’s. Pearl’s narration elevates an already-poignant story to a complex, bittersweet examination of why “girls were punished so hard for their love, so hard, hard enough to break them.” There is no escape from pain or death in this narrative—from the wolf waiting behind every door—but there is the suggestion that it’s worth the risk to open them all wide anyway. Pearl and Frankie are white (Frankie’s parents were Italian immigrants), but many secondary characters, memorably an African American ghost named Marguerite and a Chinese love interest for Pearl, are racially diverse.
A layered, empathetic examination of the ghosts inside all girls’ lives, full of historical realism and timeless feeling. (author’s note) (Historical fantasy. 14-adult)