Teens Nora and Kettle endure hardships while leading two different lives in 1950s America. She lives in a brownstone; he, on the streets. But, at their very cores, they share a common need: survival.
Nora lives in constant fear and has the bruises to prove it. She’ll do anything to protect her younger sister, Frankie, from their abusive father, ironically a civil rights attorney. When Nora’s mother dies after a fall, Nora’s last fragment of security is shattered. Kettle, an orphan and part Japanese-American, must deal with attitudes fresh from World War II that still believe he’s the enemy. He and his best friend—practically a brother—Kin, both Japanese-American internment-camp detainees, now take care of the Kings, a group of homeless boys (and one girl), who proudly rename themselves with K names. Endearingly loyal and responsible, Kettle works dangerous dock jobs to pay for groceries, toothbrushes, and Slinkys for his Kings. An act of purging finally brings Nora and Kettle together. Although it takes a while (the book’s middle) before these two lost souls meet, their chemistry becomes palpable and gives the narrative a good jolt. Kettle’s camp flashbacks feel short and in need of deepening to reflect his injustice; in contrast, Nora’s violent encounters with her father, written with care, grip the heart.
A complicated, unlikely friendship with an ending that feels simplified. (Historical fiction. 13-16)