A Massachusetts teenager of mixed heritage leaves his family behind to search for his own identity in 1960s America in Cardillo’s (The Smallest Christmas Tree, 2015, etc.) historical-drama sequel.
The Monroes revel in their quiet life in Cape Poge on Chappaquiddick Island. But tragedy rears its ugly head in 1955 when polio attacks the family’s youngest child, 7-year-old Izzy. Mother Mae takes time away from her Boat House Café, which she’d established on her own in the series’ first book, to care for her ailing daughter. Son Josiah, meanwhile, struggles to connect to his Wampanoag roots. Despite the fact that his father, Tobias, is the tribe’s sachem (chief), some tribespeople feel that Jo that doesn’t belong because his mother is Irish. Meanwhile, Mae’s engaging, selfless friend, Betty, acts as a surrogate mother for the confused, adolescent Jo. (One can only hope that she will lead a spinoff book series.) Izzy survives polio with a paralyzed left leg, necessitating braces and crutches; later, Hurricane Donna damages the café so extensively that the family may not be able to afford repairs. Selling Mae’s land, Innisfree, however, could mean that the family would be able to pay for experimental corrective surgery for Izzy, which could allow her to walk unaided. Jo feels that losing Innisfree would be like losing another part of himself. He absconds to Boston and eventually tracks down Patrick, one of Mae’s estranged siblings. It turns out that mother and son are more alike than they’re willing to admit. This unhurried novel tackles crucial issues with panache. The theme of finding one’s identity, for example, also applies to Izzy, who doesn’t want to be defined by her disease. The novel also presents racism with subtlety, as when people guess where Jo’s from based solely on the color of his skin. Over the course of the story, Cardillo skillfully weaves in events from real-life history, as when Jo later serves as a combat medic in Vietnam. The novel only falters when it shifts its perspective to Tobias, whose relatively harmless act earns him unjust ire from Mae and Izzy; this thread lacks the dramatic punch of the rest of the narrative.
A measured, riveting tale, written in a confident, impassioned voice.