From the Publisher
Named a 1998 Newbery Honor Book, an ALA Notable Book, and a Boston GlobeHorn Book Honor Book.
"Details...are woven with great effect into a realistic story."
The Horn Book Magazine, starred
"Exceptional characterizations and a robust story line...this has all the ingredients that best reward readers."
The New York Times Book Review
"With wry comedy and intense feeling...Giff gets across a strong sense of what it was like on the home front during World War II...The friendship story is beautifully drawn."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Exceptional characterizations and a robust story line turn this WWII homefront novel into far more than a period piece. Spending the summer of '44 at her family's vacation home on the Atlantic, Lily feels angry and deserted when her widower father joins the Army and is sent to Europe just after the Allied invasion. Her ever-critical Gram seems to be breathing down her neck at every turn, and Lily has gotten off on the wrong foot with Albert, the Hungarian refugee boy staying with neighbors. She just can't seem to break out of her self-described role as "a last-row, last-seat kid in school with terrible marks... [who] told lies every other minute." Giff keeps the spotlight off Lily's flaws, refraining as well from overtly linking them to her self-consciousness at being motherless. Rather, she uses them to generate the plot: as Lily and Albert work their way into friendship, Lily tells a lie with unexpected and potentially dangerous consequences. Lily learns her lesson in a resolution that feels psychologically true. In the background, characters cope with wartime shortages, stumble into tragedy as sons and brothers fall in battle-in short, lead complicated lives with the hope of redemption. Closely observed, quickly paced and warmly told, this has all the ingredients that best reward readers. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)
Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
Set during WW II, Lily's life with her beloved Poppy is disrupted when he is sent overseas. Lily, left with her grandmother, meets a Hungarian refugee named Albert. He too is suffering a separation from his loved ones. Gradually they become friends and eventually Lily, who has encouraged Albert in his scheme to return to Europe, realizes the danger. The story has a happy ending and Lily comes to understand herself and Albert. The story is filled with believable characters and historical details that make it real and relevant. Newbery Honor book.
Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
Lily, 10, spins yarns or what some might label "lies." It's her way of protecting herself. But during that summer of 1944 at Rockaway Beach, her favorite place, nothing is the same. She is so angry at her father who is going overseas that she refuses to say goodbye. Her best friend has moved away and to make matters worse, her grandmother introduces her to a refugee boy from Hungary. At first she is rude to him, but later they rescue and care for a kitten. Each child tells stories, but the tale Lily tells puts Albert in danger. This story is engrossing as Lily crosses over from self-absorption to being empathetic.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-7-Set during World War II, this tenderly written story tells of the war's impact on two children, one an American and one a Hungarian refugee. Lily Mollahan, a spirited, sensitive youngster being raised by her grandmother and Poppy, her widower father, has a comfortable routine that includes the family's annual summer migration to Gram's beach house in Rockaway, NY. Lily looks forward to summer's freedom and fishing outings with Poppy. She meets Albert, a Hungarian boy who is staying at a neighbor's house. At first, her fertile imagination convinces her that perhaps Albert is a Nazi spy, but eventually the two become good friends. The war interferes directly with Lily's life when Poppy, an engineer, is sent to Europe to help with clean-up operations. History is brought to life through Giff's well chosen details and descriptions. Both children suffer from the separation from loved ones, and both live with guilt for not having said proper good-byes. Albert even feels that he in some ways betrayed his sister Ruth, who was too ill to make the transatlantic journey. The developing friendship between Lily and Albert, and Albert's plan to swim to Europe to find Ruth, will grab readers' attention and sustain it to book's end. Despite convenient plot twists to reach a happy ending, Giff's well-drawn, believable characters and vivid prose style make this an excellent choice. A fine addition to collections that include Sonia Levitin's Silver Days (Atheneum, 1989).-Renee Steinberg, Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
In 1944, Lily's eagerly awaited summer vacation becomes a time of anxiety when her widower father, Poppy, announces that he's off to Europe with the US Army Corps of Engineers. Lily's lonely in Rockaway with both her father and her summer friend, Margaret, gone, until she meets an orphan from Budapest living temporarily with her grandmother's neighbor. At first she responds coldly to Albert, but is soon drawn to him by his awkward dignity and his tragic tale of dead parents and ill sister, Ruth, left behind in France. As they care for an abandoned kitten together and wistfully watch ships passing on the horizon, a solid friendship develops, and by the time they part, Lily and Albert have helped each other through difficult times. Much of the plot, characters, and premise is conventional, but Giff (Shark in School, 1994, etc.) really pulls readers' heartstrings with Albert's memories of his family, the loss of Margaret's well-liked brother in the war, and Lily's joyful reunion with Poppy. Pull out the hankies for the final scene, in which Lily returns to Rockaway the following summer to find Albertand Ruthwaiting for her. It's a strong ending to a deftly told story.
Read an Excerpt
He couldn't hear her, but in another flash he saw her, she was sure. And the rest of it seemed to be in slow motion. The next wave was so swollen, so tremendously high, that it pulled his boat up, and up, and the boat poised there on the crest for an instant, motionless. She could see him clearly, the orange of his life jacket standing out even in the darkness.
Then, as the wave slid out from under the boat, she could see the forward part rising, almost straight up. Lily watched it, breathless, as it slid back, and in that second, Albert was tossed into the sea.
She could see the orange life jacket a little longer, but after only seconds a wave pulled her boat in one direction and Albert in another and he disappeared.
She kept calling, kept trying to turn the boat in circles, glancing at the lights on the boardwalk to mark her place, watching for the streaks of lightning to show her where he was.
She veered away from his empty boat, which was spinning first high on a wave, then into the crest. In another flash she saw him again, just the quickest glimpse, the orange life jacket, and his dark head above the water.
"I'm here," she yelled, not sure he had heard her, or even seen her, and then another wave came, a mountain of a swell that moved toward them, pushing Albert toward her. Lily could see him turning toward her, his mouth open. He was gulping water, and she reached out, and by some miracle, her hand hooked around the top of the jacket. She held it, feeling her nails rip, but knowing she wouldn't let go, even if she was pulled out of the boat.
But the wave was past them now, and the water grew calm just for the second he needed to grip the boat, and she pulled at his jacket with both hands until he tumbled into the boat.