cover image MACARONI BOY


Katherine Ayres, . . Delacorte, $15.95 (182pp) ISBN 978-0-385-73016-7

Ayres (Voices at Whisper Bend) takes to the gritty streets of the Strip, the warehouse district in Pittsburgh, for a Depression-era tale steeped in mystery and exploring family ties. Mike Costa knows his family is fortunate—their Italian food market, Costa Brothers Fine Foods, holds its own while many businesses are failing. Mike even has his own job, trapping rats in the storeroom. But Mike finds it difficult to feel lucky as a boy bullies him at school and as his grandfather's deteriorating mental health is compounded by increasing bouts of gastric distress. Clues as to what might be making his grandfather sick, and what may be killing rats (as well as two hobos) around town, spur Mike into an urgent and dangerous bit of sleuthing. Ayres peppers her story with vivid period details (including descriptions of the city's immigrant population), but the historical color cannot salvage a disappointing, often unappetizing plot. Though the novel starts promisingly enough, fueled by realistic dialogue and characters, its repetitious structure and rushed conclusion give it a formulaic feel. Ages 8-12. (Feb.)