Readers’ heartstrings will tug for young Jack, the unsung hero in Janis Cooke Newman’s new historical novel, A Master Plan For Rescue. Crisis prevails throughout the story’s backdrop, beginning with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, triggering feelings of both anxiety and instability among Manhattan’s diverse immigrant population. Newman portrays her many characters, whether of Irish, Italian, German, or Jewish descent, as overwhelmingly supportive of the United States’ involvement in the war. While Jack, a 12-year old boy, also wants to see the Nazis defeated, he cannot separate the external struggle from his personal tragedy. The untimely death of his father, his idol, a man larger to him than life itself, rocks his young and innocent being, forcing him to hold on for dear life to what he holds sacred and real: a Code-O-Graph, the last gift Jack received from his father, which would become the tool that “possessed the power to bring him back.”
The age of the silvertone radio with programs like the Lone Ranger, Superman, and Captain America captured the imaginations of young people in the early 1940s. For Jack, in particular, it enabled him to fantasize, dream, and imagine a solution to his father’s sudden disappearance: the only “logical” explanation must be that his father was captured by Nazis and that the device last given to him by his father will be the tool that will lead to his father’s recovery.
Introduced tangentially at first, Jack’s vision deteriorates shortly before his father’s death. His father had actively sought a cure and found a doctor to fit Jack with glasses, though Jack’s near and far vision both remained impaired. With this supposed disability, Jack develops new capabilities, learning to rely on his instincts and intuition. This adventure is told through Jack’s perception, often leaving the reader to question what is real and what may result from the distortion of an imaginative lens.
Newman tells the story in such a way that the reader feels part of the experience. One can almost imagine lying on the floor, head propped up on one’s forearms, listening to adventures of the Lone Ranger, or riding the subway with Jack from Dyckman Street to the Lower East Side. Her characters are colorful and dynamic, each experiencing his or her own adversity. Yet, perhaps intended by Newman, the two characters that lead and become the unsung heroes are young Jack and Jakob, a survivor of Nazi Germany whom Jack initially suspects as a Nazi because he speaks German.
Through their friendship and collaboration, they manage to carry out the unimaginable, a rescue of 23 German-Jewish refugee children. Is this plan an extension of Jack’s fantasies, aided and abetted by Jakob’s need for closure? Or is it staged in real time, actually transpiring? Newman masterfully keeps the reader guessing and questioning what might be real or fantastic, always through Jack’s eyes.
This adventure story integrates many themes coherently and successfully and makes the reader want more. Readers of historical fiction, Holocaust-period books, coming-of-age stories and with an interest in New York’s rich immigrant culture during World War II will devour this book.