Love, family, faith, grief, and guilt are the big issues that form the drama in this YA novel, but the story never gets too message-heavy and always remains true to the viewpoint of Luke, 11, in a small town near Winnipeg, Canada, just after WWII. After falling hard for a new classmate, Gracie, Luke stays loyal to her when the others claim that her story about her father dying as a war hero is a lie. The word around town is that Gracie never knew her daddy. And why does her mother have so many male visitors? And what about Luke�s daddy: did he injure his leg to avoid the draft? In a moving novel with no clear answers, Luke�s spot-on narrative captures a young boy�s confusion as he tries to puzzle out the truth. The climax, in a storm, is a bit too metaphorical, but the small-town values and the heartbreak in daily life will touch readers, and, rare in YA novels, the preteens� passionate feelings of love. Grades 6-9. --Hazel Rochman
Set on the Canadian prairie, as was Tumbleweed Skies (2009), Sherrard's latest movingly documents 11-year-old Luke's coming of age in 1946 as he comes to deeply love his new neighbor, Gracie, also 11.
Gracie, endearingly spontaneous and affectionate, is the daughter of Raedine, who sets small-town tongues wagging when she takes a job at the local hotel, also a brothel, and people discover that her child is illegitimate. Luke and Gracie, in their innocence, initially have no idea why the townspeople and their children turn on Gracie. When she's ostracized at school, Luke becomes her defender, a difficult position after their loving teacher is fired for trying to protect the child from classmates' bullying. Yet Gracie seems almost ethereally indifferent to her situation. While Luke's parents don't shun Raedine, neither will they explain what's behind the prejudice she and Gracie encounter, leaving him to explore the possibilities. Chapters begin with information about tornadoes, but it isn't clear until the climax that this foreshadowing is more than just a symbolic representation of the town's stormy bias. Luke's first-person narration is fresh and emotionally true, charting his growing awareness of his own human failure to live up to Gracie's tender yet believable goodness.
This haunting depiction of small-mindedness will leave readers wondering, as Luke comes to, about Gracie's true nature: heavenly child—or angel? (Historical fiction. 10 & up)
-- Kirkus reviews
When Luke stumbles upon a new girl in the field near his house he is more than a little taken aback, particularly when she starts pelting him with questions. Gracie Moor turns out to be like no other girl that Luke has ever met, and despite the fact that he often finds himself flustered and apologetic in her presence, the two become fast friends. Even once school starts and the girls all compete to win Gracie’s favour Luke still knows within himself that Gracie is the best friend he’s ever had.
But things quickly become difficult for Gracie and her mother Raedine in this sleepy prairie town. When rumours about their past make their way to Junction, the news spreads quickly. Gracie soon finds herself ostracized by the very girls who had recently vied for her friendship. Bravely she endures their taunts and small cruelties but the whole town seems bent on condemning Raedine and Gracie. Luke struggles to make sense of their righteousness and anger. When tragedy strikes he is confronted with questions and confusion, along with guilt and shame.
This latest gem from wordsmith Valerie Sherrard is a poignant and powerful tale that captures a time and place even as it gently reveals truths that are timeless and heartbreaking. Luke’s voice rings clear and true as he narrates this story simply, sensitively and with the innocence of a small-town boy in 1947 who can’t even make sense of his own feelings much less of all the outrage and anger that his community has chosen to direct at its newest members.
Sherrard has filled her book with memorable characters and raises many provocative questions. She casts a light on some of the more disquieting aspects of human nature, and she doesn’t provide the happy ending that might allow readers to breathe a sigh of relief. Instead, there is heartbreak and sadness and a lack of closure, as is so often the case in real life. Yet somehow Luke makes his own peace with what has happened as does the reader in this finelywrought tale that is as touching as it is unforgettable.
—Lisa Doucet, Atlantic, Publishers