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Summary: It is 1871. Pa is serving time at Cherry Hill Penitentiary, and Francis got killed by a corrupt cop. All that’s left of the Quinns now is Ma and William, though Ma is barely making it. Now it is up to William to earn the bacon and get Ma through her grief. First he has to deal with Officer Socrates F. Kernon. He’s a murderer AND a thief - he stole Ma’s wedding band when he killed Francis. With the help of his friend Career, an aspiring journalist for the Philadelphia Public Ledger, a blowsy named Pearl, and Dr. Radway's cure-all, William helps his Ma and creates a new path for the Quinns. The characters more than the setting drive this historical fiction novel for young adults.
Type of Reading: family reading, anytime reading, independent reading
Recommended Age: read together: 11 and up: read yourself: 11 and up
Interest Level: 11 and up
Reading Level: 5.6
Young Reader Reaction: Review pending.
Adult Reader Reaction: I loved this book, mostly because of the characters. William is the main character. He idolized Francis, but not blindly; he and Career kept alive Francis’ tradition of whistling a tune to his dad from beyond the prison walls. He was a stray, but he cared for strays and turned a profit to it. This has a very Cat on a Hot Tin Roof feel to it, so it won’t appeal to everyone. I would add, though, that it finishes on a much higher note that Williams’ play.
Pros: Historical detail (like newspaper articles) and well developed characters keep you turning the page to see what happens next.
Cons: I kept looking for information about Dr. Radway's Sarsparilla Resolvent. It doesn't show up until about a third into the book, and is a very minor element of the story.
Borrow or Buy: This isn’t a book for every taste. There is a lot to delve into and it would make an excellent choice for a book club or middle school classroom.
Educational Themes: The elements of this story are timeless, and there are times when it is hard to tell that the book is set in 1871. This is a book meant for discussion and would be great for a father-son book club.
Notes: The author donated a copy of this book knowing that we would consider it for review and provide an independent, unbiased profile. This book will be given to a nonprofit to help readers in need.
Literary Categories: Fiction - historical fiction, family, young adult
Date(s) Reviewed: July 2013
Other Reviews: See Critics' Reviews and reader feedback at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.