cover image The Gypsies Never Came

The Gypsies Never Came

Stephen Roos. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, $15 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-689-83147-8

Set in a small town with such a timeless quality that contemporary details (computers, malls, The Montel Williams Show) seem almost anachronistic, Roos's (The Terrible Truth) melancholy, not altogether literal tale centers on sixth-grader Augie Knapp. Born with a deformed hand, Augie's sense of being an outsider is compounded by fatherlessness he doesn't even know his father's name. During his after-school job for a dry cleaner, he secretly collects other people's ephemera (letters, receipts, holiday cards), through which he leads a vicarious normality. When Lydie Rose, an enigmatic stranger with seemingly no family, no history and no explanation for her unbounded independence, shows up in Augie's class, she thwarts his attempts to fit in by continually accentuating his differences and telling tales of sympathetic gypsies who will come for him. Although he tries to fend her off, gypsies begin to appear in his dreams. Meanwhile, his mother's new suitor offers to bring Augie to the local lodge's father-son dinner, and it seems that he may finally be like the other guys, to heartbreaking effect. Mystical devices intervene in the final turnabout, and Lydie Rose's influence on Augie remains inconclusive. Readers may have to dig for the meaning (that Lydie Rose is one of the ""gypsies,"" perhaps?), but Roos has filled his story with enriching details, and Augie's palpable yearning couldn't be more human. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)