Monday, June 19, 2006

Grape Thief

Grape Thief by Kristine L. Franklin is set in the 1920 in Roslyn, Washington. It is a coal-mining town filled with immigrants from Europe, many of whom work in the mines. Slava Petrovich is twelve years old, the middle son in a family of five children and a widowed mother. Slava’s nickname is “Cuss” because he taught himself to swear in fourteen languages. He loves school and hopes to complete seventh grade and go on, an accomplishment his brothers and friends are unable to reach because they must quit school and work in the mines. Cuss’s older brothers are forced to leave town when they get mixed up in Mob trouble. It is the era of Prohibition and the Mob wants to move in and take over control of local moonshine production. Cuss becomes the man of the family, and has to face the economic realities. I found it to be an engaging story and well told. The use of colloquialisms was a little distracting. Terms such as skeddadle, Hokey-dokey, scram, and diddly squat may be meant as a realistic dialogue but it seems overdone to me. Sections like this one sound like a ‘B’ movie:

“There’s twenty-two drink joints in Roslyn, and that’s the ones with a front door. So the mobsters from the city say to themselves, ‘Hey, let’s us get a piece o’ that,’ and they send out a chump like Simms to make deals, to get all the drink joints to start buying from his mob, and if they don’t make a deal, they get leaned on.
“That guy Simms was sent by the Mob to deal, and nobody was dealin’, so he was starting to lean,” said Perks.

What keeps me reading is the tension between Cuss’s longing to pursue an education and his responsibility to help his family survive. He finds mentors in the town’s priest and doctor, both of whom encourage him to continue his studies and who help him look for ways to care for his family in the process. I would recommend this book to fifth and sixth graders who like realistic fiction with action and conflict.


xianfu said...

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Anonymous said...

I'm currently doing a report on this book. I think that Walter signafies more then simply
Mary's child. Thoughts?