A 12-year-old girl experiences a season of change and hope during the winter of 1962 in this middle-grade novel.
Kate Dunn, the Irish-American daughter of a police officer, lives in a comfortable apartment in Manhattan’s Washington Heights with her parents, older brother Rory, and younger brother Danny and attends the local Catholic school. Her family expects that she will eventually become a nurse or a flight attendant, but the highly intelligent Kate refuses to accept limitations on her ambitions. She regularly wins awards at her school for academic excellence, and she received a full scholarship to the Sacred Heart of Mary Academy. When she’s not spending time with her best friend, Mary Garvey, she pores over a well-worn copy of Black’s Law Dictionary. As the Christmas season approaches, she looks forward to preparing for high school; however, the winter of 1962 ends up being anything but typical for Kate. The region endures unusually frigid weather, dubbed “The Freeze” by local residents. As she waits for the snow predicted by her eccentric neighbor Miss H. Wellington Grimes, her parents cope with problems of their own: Her father faces pressures in his new assignment in the narcotics squad while also dealing with guilt over his actions during World War II, and her mother is secretly saving money. As Christmas approaches, Kate learns a secret that threatens to alter her plans for the future.
DeBoer’s debut is a sensitively crafted portrait of a young girl growing up at a pivotal time for women in America. Kate is a dynamic protagonist who has big plans for her future and refuses to let anyone tell her what she can achieve, and the tension between her ambitions and society’s expectations informs her relationships with her father, who tells her that “Girls become nurses,” and Mary, who plans to forgo college in favor of secretarial school. The Washington Heights setting is a significant part of the narrative, and the author brings it to life with vivid descriptions of the community and nuanced supporting characters. Most of the action takes place in Kate’s apartment building or in the streets of the surrounding neighborhood. The reader’s guide to life in the building is Flann McFarland, its superintendent, who regularly regales the children with fantastic stories of a kingdom in Ireland called “Shiloh.” Flann’s own tale of heartbreak is a poignant one. Another memorable resident is the aforementioned Miss Grimes, a woman who spent a colorful childhood in a traveling circus. That said, the novel would have benefited from sharper editing. At times, the prose is lyrical, particularly during a speech from Miss Grimes, in which she tells the protagonist, “Your life will at times, feel very much like a circus, Kate. The acts will come and go.” However, there are occasional misspellings of notable real-life people and places.
A charming, if uneven, coming-of-age tale.