Title: Stepping on the Cracks
Author: Mary Downing Hahn
Publication Date: October 1, 1992
Margaret and Elizabeth share the common experience of having brothers serving in World War II. These young women encounter an unique experience when they discover that the local bully, Gordy, is hiding his brother, Stuart who is a deserter. Despite their feelings and what they have been told to believe about those who don't serve their country, the girls decide to help when Stuart takes ill and is at death's door. Listening to her heart, Margaret acts despite the loss of her brother, Jimmy, and the possible consequences that might occur.
I loved this book about the homefront experience of young girls during WWII. Hahn's approach to the discussion of life for those who were left behind is a realistic portrait of the common experience of that time. The characters in the novel note that other than a few rations and an inability to get bicycles for Christmas, their lives really didn't change all that drastically.
However, facing the reality of assisting a known Army deserter is a choice that Margaret and Elizabeth must make on their own. Margaret's growth as a person by choosing to listen to her heart and evaluate the sitaution on its merits, rather than on her parents' choices to follow blindly, create an individual rather than a young girl. Margaret shows tremendous growth and maturity throughout the book, dealing with her brother's death, her parents' abandonment of her due to their son's loss, and her choice to respect Stuart's beliefs that killing anyone, enemy or friend, is not the ultimate solution.
Additionally Margaret demonstrates herself to be a profoundly interesting character when she discusses her dilemma regarding her wish that her brother had also been a deserter but her pride in his service to his country.
From Publishers Weekly
Most WW II homefront novels are unambiguous in their approach to patriots and traitors, allies and enemies. Hahn's subtle, thought-provoking work, however, proposes the legitimacy of a variety of ethical responses to critical situations. Margaret's brother Jimmy is overseas fighting, and Margaret and her parents avidly follow news of Allied advances. She and best friend Elizabeth, united in their dislike of Gordy the bully, slowly uncover several ominous secrets: Gordy is helping his older brother Stuart, an Army deserter, hide in a weatherworn shack in the woods; and Gordy's father batters his mother, his siblings and Gordy himself. At first Margaret and Elizabeth see their discovery of Stuart's shack as a way to "blackmail" Gordy into treating them decently, but when Stuart falls dangerously ill, the girls feel obliged to help care for him. Soon they begin to reexamine the standard propaganda about the war. While some of her characters seem anachronistic and certain developments are unlikely, Hahn succeeds in raising questions as valuable as they are vexing. Ages 9-12. Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8. In a small southern town in 1944, two girls secretly help a seriously ill army deserter, a decision that changes their perceptions of right and wrong. Issues of moral ambiguity and accepting consequences for actions are thoughtfully considered in this deftly crafted story. Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Have students write a letter to either a contemporary soldier or one of the characters in this novel and discuss the war and its implications on the homefront.