Sally O'Malley made a promise to her daddy before he died. She swore she'd look after her sister, Troo. Keep her safe. But like her Granny always said-actions speak louder than words. Now, during the summer of 1959, the girls' mother is hospitalized, their stepfather has abandoned them for a six pack, and their big sister, Nell, is too busy making out with her boyfriend to notice that Sally and Troo are on the Loose. And so is a murderer and molester.
Highly imaginative Sally is pretty sure of two things. Who the killer is. And that she's next on his list. Now she has no choice but to protect herself and Troo as best she can, relying on her own courage and the kindness of her neighbors. -- NAL/Penguin
I have been wanting to read WHISTLING IN THE DARK by Lesley Kagen for quite awhile. I think I first saw this book at Target, and I was instantly drawn to the front cover. So you can imagine how excited I was when my good friend selected it for our September book club pick. Then, I was even more thrilled when Lesley Kagen agreed to join our meeting tonight via speakerphone. More on that tomorrow!
I have heard so many wonderful things about WHISTLING IN THE DARK; and I have to say that every one of those reviews was spot on. I LOVED this book! It has received the Honor Book Award from the Midwest Booksellers Association. In addition, it was selected as a BookSense Pick, as well as a Featured Alternate by Double Day Book Club, The Mystery Guild and The Literary Guild. If you aren't tempted enough with that kind of praise, you can read an excerpt here.
I don't even know where to begin with this book. There are so many positive things to say about this novel. I absolutely adored the small-town setting and Ms.Kagen's descriptions of it. I thought Ms. Kagen did an excellent job of describing this small-town and making it very real to the reader. I especially like the time period when this book took place -- the summer of 1959. Ms. Kagan was 10 years old in 1959 (just like Sally) and grew up in a town similar to the one in the book; and it's apparent that she really knew and loved this time in her life.
I also thought the storyline of the book was terrific. The book was very fast-paced and I didn't want to put it down -- I actually didn't except to sleep a little! I loved that the story was told in first person narrative by Sally. Sally is one of those characters that you can't help but love -- she was such an intelligent little girl with a wonderful imagination! While her life was filled with heartache, her insights into people were fascinating; and she was often times wise beyond her years. Although the story did deal with some very serious and depressing issues, I thought that Sally's viewpoint often added some lightness and humor into the story. I definitely think Ms. Kagan captured the essence of a 10 year old little girl in Sally's actions, thoughts, and words.
As if the story of Sally and her family weren't enough (and they probably would have been for me), the author also incorporated a mystery into the story. I liked how I was kept guessing until the very end about the identity of the murderer/child molester. I definitely think the reader got caught up in the fear that the children and adults in this small town were experiencing. It was a summer where a lot of innocence was lost in this small town.
What I really enjoyed about this book was Ms. Kagan's ability to create such memorable characters. I was immediately caught up in the lives of Sally and her sister Troo; and I just kept hoping that they would have a happy ending. My heart went out to both of them. I just kept thinking that my daughter is the same age as these girls and how innocent she is compared to them (I don't think she could take care of herself like these girls had to.) There was a great cast of supporting characters too. I am just so impressed how Ms. Kagan developed each of her characters so well. I felt as if I could picture all of them; and they even reminded me of stories that my parents have told me about the people they grew up with.
I am very much looking forward to our meeting tonight. Not only am I excited to talk with Ms. Kagan, but I can't wait to hear what all my friends thought about this novel. There is a terrific book to discuss, and I thought the questions in the back of the book were very thought-provoking. (Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find the reading guide on-line.) There are many questions about the underlying themes in this novel such as loss, abandonment, abuse, and guilt. There is also a wonderful interview with Ms. Kagan as part of the Conversation Guide in the book.
I highly recommend checking out WHISTLING IN THE DARK. It's a very entertaining book, and it would make a wonderful book club selection. Run, don't walk, to the nearest store and pick up this book. I enjoyed WHISTLING IN THE DARK much that I picked up Ms. Kagan's newest novel LAND OF A HUNDRED WONDERS immediately after finishing this one. I am definitely adding Lesley Kagan to my list of must-read authors!