A teenage boy learns valuable lessons in life and love while spending the summer with his aunt at a Pennsylvania opera company in Joseph’s debut YA novel.
As World War II draws to a close, 15-year-old Toby Antoun lives with his parents, Paul and Peg, in a modest Philadelphia suburb. At the beginning of the summer, his aunt approaches his father with an unusual request. Leyla, an aspiring opera singer, has received an offer to sing with the Lake Alsoquim Opera Company in the Poconos, but her husband, Dr. Alfred Nimmer, is uncomfortable with her staying at the resort alone. If Toby’s parents agree to let him stay with her for the summer, she and Alfred will pay for Toby to attend private school. During the course of Toby’s time at the resort, he befriends a group of residents and guests who will shape the course of his life: Ron Finnegan, the son of the resort’s rental agents; Jim Conner, a deaf iceman; and Ursula, the daughter of a local restaurant owner. As the opera schedule intensifies, Toby experiences his first crush (with Ursula) and discovers that real life can be as dramatic as any stage production. Joseph has crafted a richly textured coming-of-age novel that boasts a likable hero, a well-developed setting, and engaging plot twists. Toby is portrayed as an earnest young man trying to develop his skills and figure out his place in the world. His interest in Ursula and the humorous steps he takes to get close to her, including playing the role of her son in one opera, provide some of the novel’s most poignant moments. Leyla is a feisty diva whose unexpected feelings for Jim Conner expose fractures in her marriage to Alfred. They’re surrounded by a lively supporting cast of characters, including Cesare “Chaz” Peccorini, a talented tenor and inveterate womanizer, and Patricia “Trish” Covington, a spoiled rich girl with a talent for trouble. Joseph keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, effectively incorporating many realities of life during the era, including rationing.
An entertaining, often poignant tale of a teen’s unforgettable summer.