In a lyrical mixture of early 20th century American history and fiction, embellished with a touch of fantasy, Karen Hesse’s latest book is the story of an all too real Jewish family rising from immigrant roots. Historically well-researched, Brooklyn Bridge consists of two seemingly unrelated narratives which ultimately build to a satisfying conclusion. The primary story centers on the dynamics of the extended Michtom family and its young protagonist, Joseph. Readers will share the family’s experiences with poverty, economic success, and petty grievances intermingled with moments of joy, conflict and death. Joseph’s life is turned upside down when his father invents the stuffed teddy bear. While the family is now economically stable, Joseph’s time is no longer his own. His yearning to visit the newly opened Coney Island sets the scene for a personal adventure and the emergence of a deep, dark, family secret. The shadow story provides us with a glimpse at the underbelly of society through the lives of a group of street children living under the Brooklyn Bridge. Over their daily struggles hovers a ghost, the Radiant Boy, whose presence foreshadows death. The relationship between the ghost and Joseph shapes the book’s explosive ending. Karen Hesse continues to be an innovative, creative and superb master of the written word. Brooklyn Bridge is a wonderfully evocative book that will resonate with young readers facing their own daily problems as they consider Joseph’s lament, “What bear had I been carrying…And what would it take for me to let it go?” For ages 10 – 14.
Norman H. Finkelstein, the author of eighteen nonfiction books, has won the National Jewish Book Award twice and the Golden Kit Honor Award for nonfiction. He lives in Framingham, Massachusetts.
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