In the Country of Queens

224p. Farrar. Nov. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780374370527.
Gr 4–6—In 1961 Queens, NY, 11-year-old Shirley Alice Burns lives with her overbearing, overprotective mother, Anna, and her affectionate, resourceful Russian grandmother. Shirley's shy and dutiful demeanor begins to change when she discovers that the father she hasn't seen in six years is deceased and her family didn't tell her. Hurt that she wasn't told the truth, disappointed that her cousin's vacations don't include her, unhappy with her mother's demand that she take ballet lessons, and upset over her teacher's false accusation of plagiarism on her Peace Corps essay, Shirley realizes that she must "stand up on her own two feet." Her courage is fueled by the friendship of a mouse and her literary role model, Pippi Longstocking. Shirley's angst is tempered by compassionate, fun-loving cousin Phillie; her classmate Maury; an array of apartment neighbor personalities; and her passion for handball and the French language. Characters are distinct, diverse, and three-dimensional. Extended family relationships are strong. Descriptions and dialogue are vivid, realistic, and echo the 1960s. Though the enigmatic estrangement and death of Shirley's beloved father, the catalyst for her finding her voice, is insufficiently explained, her coming-of-age story is well-paced and will tug at readers' heartstrings. Although quaint references to a Lionel train, an Aurora Road Race set, and a mouse surrogate for her father may seem juvenile to contemporary readers, Shirley embodies a candid and appealing mix of emerging adolescent concerns about her appearance, boys, doing well in school, earning an allowance, participating in clubs and sports, and, most of all, establishing her own identity.
VERDICT A fine addition, especially where there is regional interest and where historical fiction is in demand.

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