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The Martians--of Orson Welles' famous 1938 broadcast--don't just queer Willie Bea's Halloween; they pretty much shatter Hamilton's keen, affecting drama of family relations. "Oh, it was something, Willie Bea thought, Sunday time and company and Halloween begging time, all in one day and night." Across the Dayton Road, at Grand and Gramp's old homestead--protected by a "big old bluegrass lawn"--the men are in the front parlor, listening to the radio and drinking highballs; the women are in the kitchen, comfortably fixing dinner; and the children, everybody's charges, are vying for the attention of beautiful, exciting Aunt Leah--three times married, rich and generous, a fortune-teller. The scene ruptures with Mama's realization of what Willie Bea has been told by her hateful cousin Little Wing, also 12: Willie Ben's baby brother has been lured away again by Little Wing's gentle-monster brother, Big Wing--who is shooting pumpkins, with bow-and-arrow, off the compliant tot's head. Willie Bea calms Mama down--sure that Little Wing has put him up to it, convinced that "Big could not miss" . . . any more than she could lose her footing on the high crossbeam in Uncle Jimmy Wing's barn. But Willie Bea's wise papa unexpectedly makes her promise not to walk the crossbeam any more (what if her little sister imitated her?) and, at his (and Gramp's) firm insistence, Uncle Jimmy takes away Big's bow-and-arrows. The solace, for Willie Bea, is Aunt Leah's discovery of a Star of Venus in her palm: "Most fine, impossible good luck. . . . You will win the world." (Why hadn't Papa married Aunt Leah, as he might?) Back home, waiting for trick-or-treat time, Willie Bea entertains her little sister and brother with radio imitations (a wonderful, period and child-true scene); she gets them ready, in make-do costumes and (scarey-to-themselves) makeup; and, then, descending in triumph--they find Aunt Leah, glamorously attired and escorted, shireking that the world is coming to an end! What follows is mainly spook-farce and thematic manipulation--which will be read differently, moreover, by kids who've learned about the Orson Welles broadcast from the jacket (or elsewhere), and those who haven't. The family, mostly terrified, huddles at Grand and Gramp's; Willie Bea, with a cohort, sneaks off on stilts to the local farm where Martians have supposedly landed--thinking that they're actually "Venus ones," come to see her; at the farm, she takes a night-working combine for the monsters. . . falls off her stilts, gets knocked out, eventually has to acknowledge her mistake, and is consoled by Aunt Leah's assurance that, nonetheless, "anything can happen" (and by Leah's gift of a much-wanted, store-bought costume for the next Halloween). In switching to special effects and juvenile-fiction platitudes, Hamilton undercuts the resonant descriptions and emotional cross-currents of her earlier, stage-worthy naturalism. For kids, it won't be fatal; but it is too bad.
Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 1983
ISBN: 0590120298
Page count: 230pp
Publisher: Greenwillow
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1983


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