Whistling in the Dark
Penguin Group (USA) Inc
Trade Paperback/297 pages
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". . . a delightful, and all too short, trip to the past."
Whistling in the Dark: Life as a child in a small neighborhood in the 1950s.
The O’Malley sisters, Sally and Troo, have lost their father. They may also lose their mother when she enters the hospital for two weeks and remains for months near death. Living with Hall, their mother’s third husband, and Nell, their older sister by their mother’s first husband, is never easy. Hall is a drunk with a bad temper. Nell is more intent on beauty school and her boyfriend Eddie than on taking care of the girls. This leaves Sally and Troo with a lot of time on their hands and the freedom to come and go pretty much as they like, placing Sally in harm’s way as a murderer and molester prowls their neighborhood in search of his third victim.
Since the O’Malley sisters are too young to visit their mother in the hospital, they keep themselves occupied with their friends and enemies and the usual neighborhood happenings. Mary Lane, the biggest liar in town, provides the sisters with gossip. Sally’s active and fertile imagination fuels the sisters’ fears and curiosity, eventually putting Sally and Troo in mortal danger.
In the 1950s, it was common for two prepubescent girls to run the streets of their neighborhood with little restraint, aside from their expected appearance for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is a time and a world that author Lesley Kagen gets just right. Sally narrates the story of Whistling in the Dark with a blend of wisdom and innocence that never reveals Kagen’s adept hand at the wheel. Kagen recreates Sally’s neighborhood in exacting detail and populates it with an unforgettable mix of eccentric and mundane characters that takes the reader back to summer nights catching fireflies and long summer days full of restless adventure. Without descending into mawkish nostalgia, Whistling in the Dark is full of charming naïveté and droll insight. Overall, it is a delightful and all too short trip to the past.
Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell