Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction.
Audience: 6th-9th grade.
Read-Alouds: The first Read-Aloud shows Elliot’s character and his characterization.
The second Read-Aloud illustrates how the town treated Hoffman and the theme of justice.
Summary: This book is set in 1942 when Robert’s mother moves Robert and his sister to Ohio so they are closer to his family; mainly his father’s parents. Robert’s father, a flighter pilot, is in Europe serving in the war. For the first time, Robert meets his grandparents, and cousin Elliot. There is a secret that caused a rift between his father and his father’s family that Robert starts to uncover. During this novel, his cousin’s friend, Abel Hoffman, is arrested for espionage, and Robert must make sense of what is occurring. Through this novel, Robert deals with truth, loyalty, friendship, and war.
Themes: One of the themes is death. The fact that Hoffman, Elliot’s friend, died with and for his art signifies how important his work is to him. He would dye for his work. His art had gotten Hoffman through the years of hiding from the Nazis. When his art is burned in his house, he remembers when his house was burned earlier with some of his art in a different country. As a result, this triggers his memory, and he goes inside his house to die with his art.
Another theme is justice. The police arrest Hoffman because they think he is suspicious even though there is no proof he has done anything wrong. Instead, the police blame Hoffman for the attack and arrest him because he drew a detailed picture of the fort. Because of circumstantial evidence, Hoffman is arrested, and the people of the town burn down his house for an act he had not committed. The people took their own idea of what justice is into their own hands.
Connections: This novel can be paired with poems about war such as Roy Fuller’s The Middle of a War and T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding. One could also teach a unit about justice and examine the treatment of Hoffman. Another thing that could be paired with this novel are short stories about World War II. One could compare literature that places the reader in the war and literature that puts the reader through the media’s perspective. Students can compare point of view and depicts of how things are presented in different scenarios.
Reactions: This book was interesting. It was a little dry in the beginning and halfway through, but the ending caught me by surprise. [SPOILER]I expected Robert’s father to be dead. I really liked the language used in this piece. Reading about Robert’s family secret was entertaining. I would suggest this book to middle school students.
Reception: The New York Times states the story “told from the vantage point of the adult Robert (hence, perhaps, the contemporary-sounding title), this well-written and atmospheric story will evoke strong reactions from its readers.” This story is well written and attracts strong emotions from people who read this novel.
A person on Amazon.com states “I loved this book because of the build up of character that Janet Taylor Lisle creates. Everyone is an individual. Grandpa is always angry. Grandma is always trying to protect people from Grandpa. Robert’s mother is always quiet.” This person liked the characters in the novel and how unique each character was.