The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill

Megan Frazer Blakemore. Bloomsbury, $16.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-61963-348-3
Blakemore (The Water Castle) sets her story in a seldom-explored era in middle-grade fiction: the autumn of 1953, the height of McCarthyism. Hazel Kaplansky is a smart, awkward, and fervent fifth-grader who grows obsessed with sniffing out Communism in her small Vermont town and proving that the taciturn gravedigger at her family’s cemetery, Paul Jones, is a Communist spy. Teaming up with Samuel, an unusual new boy in town (“Some people are more fragile than others,” Hazel’s mother warns her), she plunges into solving the mystery of Mr. Jones, dreaming of the day she will report him to Senator McCarthy. Blakemore’s choice of perspective is refreshing and well-executed; readers will sympathize with Hazel’s patriotic passion while anticipating her downfall. Rich in period details, strong on family/friendship dynamics, with a cast of well-drawn secondary characters (Samuel, in particular, is sensitively rendered), the book demonstrates how easy it is to get caught up in an atmosphere of fear and suspicion. A light-handed yet thoughtful presentation of a difficult time in U.S. history, Blakemore’s story inspires reflection and discussion. Ages 8–12. Agent: Sara Crowe, Harvey Klinger. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/10/2014
Release date: 05/06/2014
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-1-61963-350-6
Ebook - 312 pages - 978-1-61963-349-0
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