cover image Whistle in the Dark

Whistle in the Dark

Susan Hill Long. Holiday House, $16.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-8234-2839-7

Long, the author of several early readers, reaches out to older children in this dignified and supple middle-grade story. In 1920s Leadanna, Mo., bookish 13-year-old Clem Harding is yanked out of school to work in the local lead mines. Clem dreads the prospect of sharing the depressing fate of his grandfather, who continues to suffer from mining-related illnesses: "There was nothing about the mine that would ever change Clem's first impression: it was a busy little hell straight out of the Bible." While Clem fantasizes about escaping the mine, his reality is stark: his family is poor, and his younger sister's epilepsy is a constant worry. Circumstances begin to appear less bleak when he adopts a stray dog and befriends an optimistic outsider named Lindy who sells moonshine with her dangerous father. Long writes with modest restraint, never drifting into sentimentality or overpowering the story with historical details, while remaining squarely centered in the story's time and place. The novel sings with graceful recurring motifs, true emotions, and devastating observations about the beauty that can be found in the darkest hours. Ages 8%E2%80%9312. (Sept.)