Grape Thief

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With refreshing honesty, heart, and humor - and a compelling young narrator - the author of the award-winning LONE WOLF takes readers back to 1925, and a place where a boy must become a man all too soon.

It’s 1925 in multiethnic Roslyn, Washington, and twelve-year-old Slava has earned the nickname "Cuss" because he can swear in fourteen languages. In fact, Cuss loves languages, period: unlike his older brothers, who left school after sixth ...

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With refreshing honesty, heart, and humor - and a compelling young narrator - the author of the award-winning LONE WOLF takes readers back to 1925, and a place where a boy must become a man all too soon.

It’s 1925 in multiethnic Roslyn, Washington, and twelve-year-old Slava has earned the nickname "Cuss" because he can swear in fourteen languages. In fact, Cuss loves languages, period: unlike his older brothers, who left school after sixth grade to work in the coal mines, he likes reading about as much as he likes goofing around with his friends - or planning the great grape heist of Roslyn. But when bootleggers stir up trouble and force his big brothers to skip town, Cuss feels the weight of family responsibility dropping onto his shoulders. How can he hold on to his dream to stay in school - and still do the honorable thing by his ma and little brother?

In 1925, in a small Washington State community made up of families from different ethnic backgrounds, twelve-year-old Cuss tries to stay in school as he watches those around him struggle with various financial difficulties.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The intelligent, often humorous voice of 12-year-old Cuss, a first-generation Croatian-American nicknamed for his ability to curse in the myriad languages spoken in his small Washington State mining town, propels this historical novel set in 1925. The story begins lightheartedly enough, as Cuss and his friends prankishly attempt to steal from the annual "grape train," which, in spite of Prohibition, brings the local "ethnics" the fruit from which they make wine. But the stakes quickly escalate. His brothers' fatal altercation with his sister's beau (they recognize him as a mobster in hiding) forces them to flee, leaving behind Cuss, his widowed mother and ailing younger brother. The family dynamics and tight-knit community play strongest here. Franklin (Lone Wolf) convincingly portrays the suffocating lack of options in the dying mining town, making readers understand the generosity of Cuss's mother in allowing her smart son (his gift for languages extends to other subjects) to remain in school through the seventh grade. Cuss's observations and experiences pack a wallop, such as when his best friend brags about pocketing a dime a week of his wages and Cuss plays along, but understands this means "they were worse off than I'd figured." While anxiety for the absent brothers feels real, the story line about the mob and Prohibition seems tacked on. The wish-fulfilling conclusion proves a bit too tidy, but the memorable protagonist and cast offer an intriguing look at the sacrifices and responsibilities of early-20th-century immigrants and their children. Ages 10-13. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Travel back to 1925 into the diverse ethnic community of Roslyn, Washington, with a young boy named Slava whose nickname is "Cuss." Slava narrates a turning point in his life in this uplifting and genuinely heartfelt fiction novel. His family has traveled from Europe to live in America and work in the coal mines. Cuss is very responsible, loves his family and being a schoolboy, and he manages to have a lot of fun with his friends. He creates a plan to pull off the greatest "grape heist" in history, from the grape train when it comes to town. Instead of reaching his goal of grabbing the most grapes, Cuss witnesses his brothers involved with something that makes him grow up quickly and change the way he looks at life forever. Next thing he knows his brothers have left town, leaving only a note telling him to stay in school, not to worry about them because they are going to be okay, and for him to look after their mama and younger brother Philip and sister Mary. Soon the summer ends and Cuss is back in school with a grand opportunity to learn Latin from the town's priest, which he soaks up like a sponge. As the year moves on, his sister Mary gets married, he hears from his brothers that they are doing well, Philip is infected with meningitis that leaves him with little hearing and money is tight everywhere. Cuss finds a way to help out his whole family, but some unforgivable actions cause him battles within; then he learns the importance of forgiveness through a valuable lesson. He finds himself continuing to reach for his dreams and realizing that the strength and love of his family is unbreakable. This book creates a sense for the reader that he or she is actually witnessing the joys,trials and tribulations of a young boy. It is a great read for both boys and girls, not too heavy or overwhelming, yet realistic. The book would also be beneficial for a classroom reading program, based on its ending. 2003, Candlewick Press, Ages 12 to 15.
— Christy Oestreich
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Slava Petrovich, 12, also known as "Cuss" for his outstanding ability to curse in 14 languages, balances his life around friends, school, and his fatherless, Croatian-immigrant family struggling to make a living in the 1925 coal-mining town of Roslyn, WA. He and his best buddies, Perks and Skinny, plan to take part in the annual ritual of stealing grapes from the train that arrives from California. This boyhood prank transpires on a fateful night that marks the end of the protagonist's childhood and has long-lasting repercussions for the whole family. Slava's older brothers, who are both miners, become involved in the death of a man who worked for the mob, and are forced to leave town for their safety. Slava, intelligent and eager to profit from his education, is forced to make tough choices between staying in school and dropping out to support his younger brother and widowed mother. Franklin's intriguing adventure is full of suspense, drama, and good old-fashioned boyish shenanigans. The author's fine characterization of Slava and the struggles of his family are passionately portrayed as themes of hard work, deep religious faith, responsibility, and proud self-sufficiency are woven into the story.-Rita Soltan, Oakland University, Rochester, MI Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Twelve-year-old Slava Petrovich is growing up in a multiethnic community in Washington State in 1925. Beyond his ability to swear in 14 languages, and thus his nickname, "Cuss," Slava is a top student about to enter the seventh grade, the farthest anyone in his family has ever gone to school. But with the mines laying off, his brothers having fled the town under mysterious circumstances, and with no money coming in, Slava feels the pressure to leave school and find work. His friends, Perks and Skinny, share his plan of jumping the grape train out of town toward freedom and work. Franklin's story, woven around bits of family history, is a beautiful recreation of a community of Croatian, Italian, Swedish, and other ethnic groups becoming American. A fine historical novel with lively dialogue and plenty of excitement in the form of murders, mobsters, accidents, disease, and a family struggling to survive. A good match with Holm's Our Only May Amelia. (author's note) (Fiction. 10+)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763613259
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 8/15/2003
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 304
  • Age range: 10 - 13 Years
  • Lexile: 650L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.85 (w) x 8.38 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Kristine L. Franklin is the author of several novels for young readers, including ECLIPSE, NERD NO MORE, DOVE SONG, and the best-selling LONE WOLF, a SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL Best Book of the Year. She says, "Cuss is a fictional boy who originated in stories my father told me about growing up in Roslyn. In doing research for this book, I discovered my own roots, and learned how much it cost my grandparents to settle here so their children and grandchildren could have what they themselves had never known - full bellies, education, and above all, the freedom to dream."
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Read an Excerpt

Back in second grade I took on a bully named Snakey who’d called my pa a word in Estonian that I wouldn’t repeat in English. Pa’d died from the influenza only a few years before that, and I didn’t take too kindly to anyone’s smearing his name, not in any language. Maybe Snakey thought all I knew was Croatian. I showed him, even though I was just a squirt. First I called him a big põrsas, meaning "pig," which I’d picked up from one of my brother’s Estonian pals, and then—socko!—one punch and Snakey was down with a busted nose.

After that I started paying close attention to the other ethnics. I listened to what they said, especially when they were drunk and hollering at each other. I collected their cuss words and insults. Pretty soon they figured out what I was up to and went along with my game. I only had to hear a word once to remember it. They taught me that joodik meant "drunkard" in Estonian, and träskpadda meant "swamp frog" in Swede, and that pupa-ma-n meant "kiss my butt" in Romanian. I told them if I knew enough cuss words in other languages, no kid would ever be able to pull a fast one in Old Country talk. They thought I was a hoot. And they gave me a nickname that stuck: Cuss.

By the end of second grade I could say "You look like a horse’s hinder" in Croatian, Turk, Slovenian, Italian, Estonian, Albanian, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Swede, Finn, Polack, Czech, and even Arab, which I got from Perks, whose Granny knew a Gypsy who shacked up with a guy from Arabia. I knew a lot of other cuss words, too. Guess you could say I had the knack.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted March 8, 2010

    Grape Thief

    This is an amazing book. If you enjoy historical fiction then you will absolutely love it! This is my 5th time reading it..That's how much I love it :D I have recommended this book to all of my friends who also have enjoyed it :) Please's very good

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