Whistle in the Dark

192p. Holiday House. 2013. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8234-2839-7. ebook available. LC 2012034507.
Gr 4–8—Thirteen-year-old Clem lives in Leadanna, Missouri, in the 1920s. He's a good student who likes to make up stories for his sister and who dreams of a life beyond his small mining town. Money is tight, so when his father pulls him out of school and hands him a miner's cap, Clem sees his hopes of getting an education fade when he joins the other men who make a living working underground. After tragedy strikes, he becomes the only one able to provide for his family. Faced with difficult situations (including the temptation to join a moonshine operation, his sister's epilepsy, and other challenges), Clem grows up quickly. With the help of a friend who must handle many hardships of her own, and the unexpected appearance of a faithful stray dog, Clem is able to find a way to make his dreams come true. This novel offers readers a look at the hardships found in American mining communities. An author's note clarifies the factual events interspersed in the story. Well-developed characters, rapid plot development, and interesting scenes make this a debut that will appeal to reluctant readers.—Denise Moore, O'Gorman Junior High School, Sioux Falls, SD
It's 1924, and with his beloved sister sick, thirteen-year-old Clem must quit school and join his father deep in the Missouri lead mines in order to help pay the doctor's bill. Clem's father, Pap, sees this responsibility as Clem's coming of age wherein his book-loving son will finally become a man following the family's proud traditions ("It's what we do, the Harding men, we're miners"), even though those traditions are slowly killing Clem's grandfather, who has miner's consumption. Clem hates every moment underground, a feeling Long skillfully conveys by re-creating the deep, dark, claustrophobic setting, contrasting the tunnel atmosphere beautifully with the prayer "To grass" that miners offer when coming to the surface. Pap provides no sympathy for Clem's plight, and Clem's superstitious mother only knows to follow her husband's wishes. Clem befriends another outsider, Lindy, taunted with the nickname Frankenstein because of an unsightly and mysteriously acquired scar on her cheek. Both want to escape their lives, but they are caught in desperate situations neither can really control, and the road out seems blocked at every turn. Although the many plot threads tie up overly conveniently, the nicely integrated setting and main characters are strong enough to carry readers to another time and place. betty carter

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