A fly-catching contest comes to dominate the life of new Irish immigrant Will in 1912 Hamilton, Ontario.
Life isn’t easy for the 12-year-old. His mother and young sister recently died, money is very tight, and rich boy Fred, a new classmate, is savoring every opportunity to humiliate him. Opportunity knocks when the local newspaper offers a $50 prize for killing the most flies as part of an effort to reduce disease. The competition is ruthless, with Fred and his minions collecting thousands of flies and Will trying lots of clever tricks to pull even. Another poor child, Ginny, is besotted with Fred but gradually comes to see the truth about the bully and switches her loyalty and friendship to Will. He struggles with the ethics of his tricks, reminded by the wealthy but even-minded Rebecca of a nobler mission. While the dead-fly count reaches an awesome, even unbelievable level, an author’s note states that the tale is accurately based on a real contest. At times, Will’s voice sounds inappropriately authorial—“The pain of the fleeting memory seared at my heart, but then faded to a warm glow”—but readers will nonetheless enjoy his spunky attitude and underlying goodness. McNicoll paints a believably gritty portrait of urban life a century ago.
An entertaining visit to the past with a likable guide on a spirited—if icky—quest. (Historical fiction. 9-14)