In a dramatic departure from her fairy tale fare, Levine (Ella Enchanted) creates a chiaroscuro effect as she contrasts the bleak days and colorful nights of Dave Caros, an orphan growing up amid the Harlem Renaissance. When his woodcarver father dies in October 1926, Dave's older brother, Gideon, goes to live with their Uncle Jack in Chicago, but none of Dave's relatives can afford to take him. Dave's stepmother places him at the Hebrew Home for Boys (nicknamed Hell Hole for Brats), and the 11-year-old vows to run away. But first he must retrieve his most prized possession, his father's carving of Noah's Ark, which was stolen by the superintendent Mr. Bloom (aka ""Doom""), who is infamous for beating up boys. In the meantime, Dave finds a way to sneak off the grounds for the evening. Thus begins Dave's secret life, revealed through his first-person narrative. On his first night out, he meets Solly, a self-proclaimed ""gonif"" with a heart of gold, who uses Dave as a sidekick in his fortune-telling gigs. Solly introduces him to an avant-garde group of thinkers, painters, writers, musicians and Irma Lee, the young niece of a prominent African-American socialite. As Dave waits for the opportunity to reclaim his carving, he settles into his double life. His fellow ""elevens"" at the orphanage emerge as distinct, colorful personalities who come through for him time and again. Mr. Hillinger, the unwittingly hilarious art teacher who cannot complete a sentence, becomes a champion for Dave's artistic talents. And his nocturnal adventures lead to an abiding friendship with pretty and kind Irma Lee--as well as shed light on a fascinating corner of American history. In describing 1920s Harlem from a child's perspective, Levine articulates what it might have been like for anyone exposed to such innovation in art or the sounds of jazz for the first time: ""It was wide-awake music, nothing like the waltzes Papa used to whistle. If I could have painted it, I would have used bright colors and short straight lines."" This poignant and energetic novel, inspired by the author's father's childhood, comes with an all's-well-that-ends-well conclusion that brings a sense of belonging to Dave and his orphan friends, yet delivers a surprise as well. The Artful Dodger has met his match in Dave. Ages 8-12. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/30/1999 Release date: 09/01/1999 Genre: Children's
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