Children's Literature - Claudia Mills
In 1953, nothing much is happening in Rusty Nail, Minnesota, a town with "only one of everything: one grocery store, one church, one lawyer, one doctor, one bar, even one old drunk." But Rusty Nail has not one but two ambitious young pianists: ten-year-old Franny Hansen and her "official Number One Class-A Enemy," spoiled, rich, "infinitely hateable" Nancy Orilee. So when the dazzling Russian pianist Madame Malenkov arrives in town, Franny is bound and determined to beg and bribe her into piano lessons, in spite of all of the church lady gossip that the mysterious Russian is in fact a Commie spy. Franny is crushed when Madame Malenkov begins teaching Nancy, too, leading to a decisive confrontation between the two girls at a regional piano competition. Franny and her best friend Sandy are formidable adversaries for the truly bratty Nancy, whether pelting her with water balloons or plotting to squirt ketchup on her snow-white fairy Halloween costume. In fact, the story reads merrily along on the sheer momentum of Franny's ambition and Sandy's spite. While the outcome of the piano competition itself seems highly implausible and Franny is never fully convincing as a piano prodigy, readers should have no trouble rooting for Franny all the way and condemning the Cold War prejudices of this cliched but appealing Midwestern small town.
VOYA - Ann T. Reddy-Damon
Francis Hansen and her arch rival, Nancy Orilee, are slated to play the piano for a visiting dignitary. This news is big for the small Minnesota town of Rusty Nail in 1953, a place with only one of everything including grocery, church, bar, and stoplight. Although Nancy's father will pay for anything, including out-of-town lessons, Frances must settle for lusterless Mrs. Staudt, who has trouble staying awake during the lessons. In this town and tale that is structured in three movements like a piano concerto, only one star can shine. The Moderato sets the competition between the girls. The Adagio raises the tension by bringing in a Russian concert pianist. Frances cajoles her way into scant lessons from Olga Malenkov only to learn that Nancy is being tutored as well. Because it is the McCarthy era, the mystery surrounding the newcomer threatens to divide the town. The Allegro brings an exciting conclusion to the rivalry. The characterization of Frances and Olga are full-full of doubts, excitement, and anxieties. The language is mostly fresh and engaging for carrying the plot; however, many secondary characters are little more than placards, predictable and stilted. The mayor's dialect is corny, and the mother's inability to cook or iron is cartoonish. Recommend this book to music lovers as well as to anyone searching for a McCarthy-era novel.
School Library Journal
Rusty Nail, MN, in 1953 is the backdrop for the mischievous, sometimes hilarious, antics of Franny Hansen and her best friend, Sandy Hellickson. In addition to being rambunctious and fun loving, the 10-year-old is a piano prodigy whose talents risk being wasted by the limited ability of the town's only piano teacher. Enter Olga Malenkov, a mysterious Russian, seemingly the wife of a big-city lawyer who is a former native son of Rusty Nail. The psychology of the McCarthy period spurs the townspeople to gossip and to decide that the stranger is a Communist spy. Franny's mother offers the voice of reason to balance the hysteria and paranoia rampant at the time. When the girls decide to do some spying of their own, Franny discovers that the newcomer plays the piano beautifully. She bargains her way to lessons, and the extent of her talent is discovered. Add to the mix Franny's piano rival-a stereotypically conceited, spoiled, bratty youngster-and a high-stakes competition, and the tension escalates. Blume has skillfully combined humor, history, and music to create an enjoyable novel that builds to a surprising crescendo.
Renee SteinbergCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Being a budding classical musician in small town Minnesota during the 1950s doesn't stop Franny from throwing water balloons and causing trouble-especially for Nancy Orilee, whose aggravating bragging about her hoity-toity ways includes competition for top pianist honors. When town lawyer Charlie Koenig brings his new Russian wife home, the whole town is in an uproar, thinking that Olga is a spy. However, Franny discovers the "Commie" is a famous musician with a collection of instruments, including a grand piano. Finagling some lessons requires trickery, but Franny is determined in spite of small-town McCarthyism and Olga's own cantankerousness. Shenanigans abound with Franny's best friend Sandy, and yet there is no doubt of her dedication to becoming a great pianist. Blume's folksy tone somewhat undermines the high tone in regards to the music, but those who love a heroine with gumption struggling with injustice will enjoy the ride. (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher
★ “A story that is as rich as it is delicious.”—Booklist, Starred
“Blume has skillfully combined humor, history, and music to create an enjoyable novel that builds to a surprising crescendo.”—School Library Journal