In this sequel to Black Radishes, wartime refugee Gustave Becker arrives on a Portuguese ship in Baltimore in January 1942 with his parents, his cousin and his mother. They travel to New York City. Gustave enters Joan of Arc Junior High and struggles with learning English and the American way of life which differs so markedly from pre-war or wartime France. He joins the Franco-American Boy Scout troop and finds a friend in African-American classmate September Rose Walker. He doesn’t understand how discrimination against African-Americans and Jews could exist in America; it reminds him of Nazism. Throughout, he continues to wonder about the whereabouts of his friend Marcel, and Saint-Georges correspondent Nicole keeps him informed through code words in her letters.
Meyer presents a wartime New York City through the eyes of a refugee. Her back matter notes she has relied on oral histories and memoir to research the time and place. The narrative is largely based on her father’s life. While compelling, the plot seems contrived and overly manipulated in spots and there are a few minor inaccuracies. Still, Meyer has captured the refugee experience, the strangeness and wonder, the challenge and impact of learning English, the poverty, and the flashbacks of terrorized life in Nazi-occupied France. For the American perspective on wartime refugees, see Lila Perl’s Isabel’s War, clearly written by an author who lived through this time period and brings verisimilitude to the narrative.
Recommended to with the prequel Black Radishes, ages 9 – 12.