Saturday, August 15, 2020

Book Review: Stealing Mt. Rushmore by Daphne Kalmar

Nell was supposed to be a boy. Her dad loved Mt. Rushmore and a postcard of it got him through his time serving in the Korean War. Afterwards he had three boys--George, Tom and Toddy--and a girl, Nell (actually named for Susan B. Anthony, Nell is a nickname). Nell has always felt like she's had more to do to make him proud, and since their mom left, she's really been carrying the lion's share of the household (she's the second oldest.) Her brothers aren't slackers per se--George works full-time (in the summer) as a busboy at the same diner where their dad is a short-order cook, and Tom has a paper route and picks up a second job as a bagboy at the grocery store. Nell's primary job is watching Teddy, the six-year-old, but somehow all of the cleaning and shopping and laundry and dishwashing falls on her 13-year-old shoulders.

Since their mom just disappeared one day (but her suitcase and record player and records are all gone so they know she left by choice), their dad has been in a serious funk. He didn't leave the bedroom for a week. And now finances are even tighter than before. But he's trying to hold the family together. A long-planned cross-country trip to see Mt. Rushmore is what they're all hanging onto. Their dad saved $500 so they can go (it'll be a camping trip, plus it's 1974 so $500 goes further). Then he discovers that the coffee can in the freezer with the vacation money is empty. His wife took that too when she left. He retreats to the bedroom again.

Furious, Nell is determined to recover the money. She's been saving to replace the record player and she now puts all of that money toward the trip, as does Tom with his savings. She holds a car wash, and asks neighbors about doing yardwork. Finally she has an idea. If her mom isn't coming back, why can't she sell all her things, sitting in boxes in the basement? Would that be appropriately ironic if it could get them to South Dakota?

I really appreciated that this book wasn't all cutesy and things didn't get wrapped up in a bow. It reminded me a lot of last year's Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart, but much grittier. This family is also in mourning in a way and just barely hanging on. But the situation is a lot more realistic. As is the ending. Things don't all work out in the end. And life is usually like that, so kids need books that show those situations. Sometimes your family members can be real jerks. And sometimes they can step up when you least expect it.

This book is published by Feiwel & Friends, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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