cover image Goodbye, Walter Malinski

Goodbye, Walter Malinski

Helen Recorvits. Farrar Straus Giroux, $15 (96pp) ISBN 978-0-374-32747-7

First-time author Recorvits makes a poised and confident debut with this bittersweet Depression-era tale of a Polish immigrant family. Since Pa got laid off from his job at the cotton mill, ""There were no more jokes and no more ice cream cones,"" notes Wanda, the fifth grader through whose eyes the story unfolds. The family survives on the wages her older sister, Victoria, earns as a maid at the mill-owner's home, and tension builds between Pa and Walter, Wanda's adored and protective 15-year-old brother, whom Pa wants to send off to join the Civilian Conservation Corps for pay. Pa's temper boils over frequently in angry words and even physical violence toward Walter. Then one day when Wanda and Walter go sledding, the boy falls through the ice and drowns. In this brief volume, Recorvits encapsulates a full range of human feeling and experience, as she describes the Malinskis' home life, loss and their growing resolve to pick up the pieces, supported by their friends and community; she transforms their tribulations into glimmers of hope. Wanda's voice is pitch perfect, as when she grieves for her brother: ""A broken heart hurts so much. Worse than a dizzy headache and a sick stomach and a bad note from the teacher and your best friend being mad at you all at once."" Recorvits skillfully weaves the threads of her story--the close relationship between Wanda and Walter; the oppression of poverty; the toll that unemployment takes on an individual's sense of pride--into a vigorous tapestry of immigrant family life during a dark era. Bloom's softly shaded black-and-white line illustrations, sometimes brooding, sometimes hopeful, punctuate each chapter and contribute to the emotional impact of the tale. Ages 9-12. (Mar.)