cover image The Art of Keeping Cool

The Art of Keeping Cool

Janet Taylor Lisle. Atheneum Books, $17 (216pp) ISBN 978-0-689-83787-6

Following the tradition of Summer of My German Soldier, this wrenching WWII novel traces the relationship between two 13-year-old American boys and a German-born expressionist painter reputed to be a spy. After narrator Robert's father enlists as a pilot, Robert, his mother and younger sister move in with Robert's paternal grandparents in a small town on the coast of Rhode Island. Robert despises his hot-tempered grandfather, but finds a companion in cousin Elliot, a sensitive boy with a remarkable talent for drawing. Though Robert introduces Elliot as having ""mastered the art of keeping cool,"" Elliot's actions belie his anxieties and nervous tics (e.g., he doesn't fit in at school, and he chews on the skin between his thumb and forefinger whenever he's troubled); and the 1950s phrase seems out of sync with the time period. When Elliot befriends the German painter, Abel Hoffman, Robert fears for his cousin's safety and the unleashing of his grandfather's wrath if the friendship were discovered. However, Robert is unprepared for the sudden explosion of hatred by the townspeople when their suspicions against Abel are aroused. As apt at writing historical fiction as she is at penning fantasy, Lisle (The Lost Flower Children; Afternoon of the Elves) weaves together an intriguing web of family secrets and wartime fears while encapsulating the wave of patriotism sweeping the nation in the 1940s. The intimate first-person narrative brings universal themes of prejudice and loss to a personal level as the boys and their artist friend discover the destructive power of war on the home front. Ages 10-14. (Oct.)