cover image All He Knew

All He Knew

Helen Frost. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-374-31299-2

In this poignant free verse novel spanning 1933–1945, six-year-old Henry, who becomes deaf following a fever, arrives at the Riverview Home for the Feebleminded after, deemed “unteachable,” being rejected by a school for the deaf. Without knowing where he has been taken or how long he’ll stay, Henry navigates dorm life, peer relationships, and often-cruel “men with keys,” such as Blanket Man, who yanks the children’s covers off to wake them. In portraying Henry’s perspective, Printz winner Frost deftly sketches his heightened senses and keen observations, such as regarding the institution’s oppressive stench (“something like potatoes/ forgotten in a corner of the kitchen”), alongside chilling abuse, including boys confined in straps for days. The viewpoint shifts between Henry and his older sister Molly, who tells her brother’s story and describes family struggles to save enough to visit, and then widens to include a kind conscientious objector, 17-year-old Victor, who notices Henry’s intelligence after arriving in Riverview to work in lieu of enlisting to fight in WWII. An author’s note describes the family member who inspired the story and includes dated poems by his sister, the author’s mother-in-law. Frost balances descriptions of institutional abuse with strong characters and enduring hope. Ages 10–14. Agent: Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown. [em](Aug.) [/em]