Sarah Goldman is a fifteen-year-old Jewish girl living in a cramped apartment behind her father’s butcher shop in 1892. Sarah’s world opens up when she starts taking art classes at Chicago’s Hull House, volunteers for Jane Addams, and visits the World’s Columbian Exposition. Short chapters, some only a single page, are divided into even shorter sections producing a choppy narrative that oft en loses momentum and fluidity. The toddler Sarah babysits falls to his death from the roof of the apartment building and one of her classmates is accidentally stabbed to death at his own birthday party in front of her eyes. Despite these extremely traumatic events, the book lacks drama. While the title suggests the main thrust of the book, Polikoff fails to create any real tension or suspense around Sarah’s mother’s secret, and the revelation ends up being rather anti ‑climatic. In the end, readers know and understand the family’s secret but too many other loose ends and disconnects makes this an unsatisfying read. Jane Addams, the Hull House, the World’s Fair, the art of Mary Cassatt, and Chicago in the 1890s are all introduced with interesting historical details, however, the book will have difficulty finding an audience even among fans of historical fiction. Recommended for ages 10 – 13.
Rachel Kamin is the Director of the Joseph and Mae Gray Cultural & Learning Center at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park, Illinois. A past chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, Rachel is currently the co-editor of Book Reviews for Children & Teens for the Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter. She holds a BA in history from Grinnell College and a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Michigan.