If Harriet M. Welsch lived in 1953 in a community vulnerable to McCarthyism, this might be her story.
Fifth-grader Hazel has short hair, a Mysteries Notebook and, when the school day ends, dungarees. Her stomping grounds are Memory’s Garden—the cemetery that her parents run—and their sleepy Vermont town. Hazel sneaks canned goods from her kitchen to a graveyard mausoleum so that when the Russians attack, her family can use it as a fallout shelter. Her fear of Communists comes from duck-and-cover drills at school, Sen. McCarthy’s search for “Reds” at a local factory, the repeated failures of adults to explain anything and her own proclivity to fill in the gaps. In addition to threatening atomic annihilation, the Russians will put people into sausage grinders and eliminate ice cream floats. Surely the gravedigger her parents recently hired must be a spy. Hazel shanghais strange new boy Samuel into helping her gather evidence, but Samuel’s life holds mysteries too—and sadness. For a smart, probing kid, Hazel’s an interesting and believable mix of persistence and naïveté. Some schoolmates have “a dark, solid center that ma[kes] them mean” and some adults “[r]umor, whisper [and] lie,” but funny, relentless Hazel does what’s necessary until things come clear for her, her people and her town—with some emotional insight gained.
Hazel’s inquisitiveness, independence and imperfections are a winning combination. (author’s note) (Historical mystery. 9-12)