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Sixth-grader Eleanor Roosevelt Dingman lives on the wrong side of the tracks in Spectacle, New York, in 1963. Bigotry abounds, and there are many acts of vandalism against the lone Jewish family and a pair of elderly women who live together. It's even worse at school, with Ellie and her best friend Holly the victims of endless bullying and hazing. But of most concern to Ellie is the future of her family. Her mother, Doris Day Dingman, is self-promoting, and totally self-absorbed. When she leaves to pursue her show-business dreams, Ellie is devastated, but understands that this outcome was inevitable. Martin has created a sensitive, sympathetic character in a setting rich with detail that place her firmly in the period. Occasional loose ends in the plot put this a step below her best work, but Martin's fans will recognize Ellie's emotional struggle and breathe a sigh of relief at the ending. (Fiction. 10-12)
Horn Book Magazine
(November 1, 2004;
(Intermediate, Middle School) In her small town of Spectacle in 1963, Ellie Dingman has two strikes against her. One, the Dingmans live on a street made up of what the town considers oddballs: "the ladies" (a presumably lesbian couple), a bohemian Jewish family, and an unmarried mother (whose daughter Holly is Ellie's best friend). And two, Ellie's cheaply glamorous, self-centered mother, "Doris Day" Dingman, is desperate to break into show business, heedless of the consequences to her family. Ellie hears the snickers and understands town dynamics better than Doris does, but without fuss she cooks dinner, cares for her younger siblings, and generally holds the family together. A series of "Bad Things" happens on her street (smashed mailboxes, a defaced tree, the poisoning of a cat); while at school, Ellie and Holly are targeted for humiliating physical abuse by their fellow sixth-graders. A story set in 1963 is bound to turn on the assassination of JFK, and this one is no exception. Inspired by Jackie Kennedy's abruptly changed life, Doris decides to make a new life for herself in New York City. The novel shows these painful events from Ellie's perspective, and because she is so resilient, we don't dwell on her troubles any more than Ellie does herself. With her fluidly accessible writing style, Martin evokes family and school life in the early sixties to perfection and creates a number of nuanced characters to surround her very ordinary yet compelling main character. Copyright 2004 of The Horn Book, Inc. All rights reserved.
(October 4, 2004;
Martin, who explored with such insight the themes of ostracism and family conflict in Belle Teal and A Corner of the Universe, affectingly reexamines them in this third novel set in the 1960s. Eleanor ("Ellie") Roosevelt Dingman, a sixth-grade resident of Spectacle, N.Y., wrestles with her feelings about her family and neighborhood, which is filled with social misfits. ("Every time Ellie neared her street she was struck by two opposing feelings, and wasn't sure how her heart had room for both of them. She felt a tugging fondness for her small house and the four other houses on the street. And she felt a pang of embarrassment at being one of the people who lived on Witch Tree Lane.") Ellie's chief source of anxiety is her mother, Doris Day Dingman, who acts more like a beauty queen than a mother. Tension mounts as Doris becomes increasingly obsessed with becoming a famous actress and grows neglectful of her children. Around the time of Kennedy's assassination, she decides to leave her family to pursue her dream in New York City. Readers may find it unsettling that Ellie fails to make a significant connection with either parent. Her attitude toward her star-struck mother and remote father is as ambivalent at the end of the story as it is in the beginning. But Ellie shows fierce loyalty to her neighbors, especially her best friend,