Jack Pool has lived in the remote town of Massena in upstate New York all his life and, although he is Jewish, has always assumed that he and his family are fully accepted by the community. His father, the hard-working owner of Pool’s Dry Goods, the general store, prides himself on positive relations with all their neighbors regardless of their religious beliefs and, because of his meager beginnings, has pushed himself to be successful and make a secure place for his family. Jack, a perpetual daydreamer, is a gifted musician; as a talented cello player, he secretly desires entry to The Bentley School where he can gain enough confidence to enter a conservatory in New York City and escape the steady but monotonous existence of small town life. When Jack turns sixteen on September 22, 1928, he wakes up to a day that should be full of promise. He has feelings for a young Gentile lady, the stunning Emaline Durham, and plans to ask her to the school’s fall festival dance. Emaline’s day starts out with a hike in the woods with her friend to look for her four-year-old sister, Daisy, who has not come home. Thinking that Daisy is being playful and hiding in the woods, Emaline calls out to her sister but she never answers and is finally reported missing. The local police begin an intense search and an assumption is made about Jack and his family. Gus, the policeman who overheard a comment that Jack made about getting ready for Yom Kippur flatly states, “That girl who disappeared, it’s the Jews…They have strange customs for their holidays. They use blood. Drink it and bake it in their special foods.” Jack, Rabbi Abram, and the rest of the Jewish population find themselves under close scrutiny and interrogation. At one point, Jack is threatened by a restless crowd outside the temple and has to trick the crowd with the blowing of the shofar to escape and find safety at home. Although Daisy finally reappears, it is too late for Jack; he has been the pawn of anti-Semitism and realizes that he will only find acceptance in a more cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Based on an event that actually happened in 1928, Shirley Reva Vernick has skillfully woven a powerful story of suspense and terror that would be a perfect stepping stone for dialoguing about tolerance. Recommended for ages 13 and up.