Suburbanite Ethan Oppenheimer is suspended from his middle school and sent from his Pennsylvania home to live with his grandparents, whom he barely knows, in downtown Washington D.C. He is the only white student in his inner-city school. His race and upper middle class background add to his transition as the “new kid,” and Ethan has a lot of trouble making friends. His home life is totally different from before, with his grandparents living what he regards as a very old-fashioned lifestyle (no Internet and email) and one that is comparatively frugal. At the same time he has to deal with many emotional issues. He has guilt for the events that led to his suspension and hurt another boy, and he also has a lot of anxiety about his parents’ recent separation and his sister’s leaving for college in California.
This is truly an unusual coming-of-age novel, with Ethan’s research into the 1968 riots in Washington, D.C. opening a new world for him, one bringing him closer to his grandparents’ and his mother’s experiences.
A first novel by an educator in Washington, D.C., this book is extremely well-written and always holds the reader’s attention. Although Ethan and his family are Jewish, there is little Jewish content. Recommended for junior high readers as a true-to-life story they can relate to. Ages 11 – 14.