cover image Your Eyes in Stars

Your Eyes in Stars

M. E. Kerr, . . HarperCollins, $15.99 (229pp) ISBN 978-0-06-075682-6

Kerr's (Gentlehands ) eminently readable novel set during the Depression almost feels like two books in one. Narrated by 14-year-old Jessie Myrer, the daughter of a prison warden (she dubs him a "benevolent dictator"), the first part chronicles her blossoming friendship with a new neighbor, Elisa Stadler, whose family has moved from Germany to Cayuta, N.Y., for her father's professorship at Cornell. While Jessie shares with Elisa her obsession with outlaws (she has a poster of John Dillinger on her wall), Elisa tells her new American friend about "this new leader, Hitler, [who] was gaining popularity in Germany." As she has in the past, Kerr leavens the dark events of the era with humor. The teen protagonists become fixated on a new prisoner, Slater Carr, whose talents on the trumpet may well win the prison band their first Black Baa (the Bands Behind Bars Annual Award). But things go horribly awry one day, when Carr escapes and one citizen winds up dead, prompting Elisa's family's return to Europe. The balance of the novel unfolds through letters exchanged between the teens. Readers may feel they hardly recognize Elisa when she joins the League of German Girls, but the author delivers some surprising twists. Kerr explores issues of anti-Semitism, classism and capital punishment through the eyes of ordinary people, and demonstrates that taking a stand on the small things can mean the difference between justice and apathy. Ages 12-up. (Jan.)