Draft dodging and literary censorship come to a head in this Canadian bildungsroman set in the 1970s.
While the Vietnam War rages, 13-year-old Charlotte and her best friend, Dawn, are doing their best to grow up without becoming awful teenagers in the process. While attending a supremely muddy be-in in full hippie regalia, the two befriend clean-cut Tom Ed, a well-mannered Texan draft dodger in need of a place to crash. Charlotte’s Quaker family takes him in, and Charlotte finds a true friend in the American guest. Meanwhile, the girls’ favorite English teacher is facing a censorship battle over Catcher in the Rye, and Charlotte feels a calling to help. Scintillating prose, rich dialogue, and charming characterizations mark a novel that straddles the boundary between middle-grade and YA. Charlotte, despite her determination to be an Unteen, has an age-appropriate fascination with menstruation and the concept of sex, and Tom Ed occasionally forgets his boundaries to drop the occasional swearword (“faggot,” “asshole”), adding to the book’s liminal feel. Charlotte, part of an all-white cast of characters, is a curious, confused, and delightful companion, wrestling with questions about her best friend’s flakiness and her brother’s emerging same-sex attraction. Ellis extends her insightful characterizations to the secondary cast, such as a censor’s daughter who is “snobby and scary, like she was just getting ready to be mean.”
A whip-smart historical that highlights that transitionary period to which few would ever desire to return. (Historical fiction. 10-14)