In Long’s (The Magic Mirror) novel set in small-town Maine, it’s 1977, and intrepid sixth grader Josie Bloom is doing her best to make ends meet. The grandfather with whom she lives following her single mother’s death has been misplacing money and forgetting to pay bills, and he blurts non sequiturs when questioned. After discovering an unpaid mortgage bill, Josie enlists the aid of her best friend Elwyn “Winky” Wheaton, who is visually impaired due to Stargardt disease, to help her raise the money. The inventive duo tries several get-rich-quick schemes with hilariously unfortunate results (their sole yard-work customer pays them to never clean his yard again). The plot picks up when Josie and baseball-obsessed Winky become entangled with recently disgraced player Joe Viola, whose continued slump is blamed on Josie having touched his glove. Josie’s first-person narration is humorous (facts from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! inform many of her brainstorms) and sometimes poignant (as when a memory of her mother crops up); Long nails the voice of a kid trying as hard as she can to tackle adult problems on her own when the well-meaning adults in her life fall short. Publishers Weekly
Orphan Josie Bloom’s grandfather is acting very peculiar, leaving her to take up the slack.
Signs of Grandpa’s problem are everywhere. Wads of money appear in unexpected places, like inside a bologna package. Grandpa not only won’t explain where the money’s coming from, but now he’s started blurting out random words and phrases: “Lima beans!” Worst of all, he seems to have lost track of the need to pay bills. An intrepid person, Josie figures out how to use the checkbook and the rudiments of banking. It’s the mortgage that seems like the final straw. What will happen if she can’t find the money to make the monthly payments? Throughout all her trials, she’s supported by Winky, her steadfast classmate, a talented baseball player who’s gradually going blind. Her teacher is also helpful, but Josie’s afraid to confide her extreme difficulties, fearing the outcome. Perhaps a washed-up major league player who might just be her long-lost father could be the solution. Setting her story in 1977 in a small Maine town, Long does little to create a strong sense of time or place, and even though baseball is a major theme, it, too, takes the bench to the strong, attractive personalities that flavor this character-driven coming-of-age tale. It’s those lovingly crafted people, seemingly all white, who elevate the story above the rest.
Entertaining and emotionally resonant. Kirkus Reviews