Molly is a young teenager in 1950’s California who unexpectedly discovers that her mother is hiding some secrets about her life. An aspiring writer, she then places an ad in the New York Times seeking clues (her mother grew up in Brooklyn).
Meanwhile, her Uncle Stephen accidentally performs a miracle when a child he casually lays hands on and prays for is cured of a fatal brain tumor. The Catholic Church then sets about trying to document that the healing was a genuine miracle. This turns the lives of Molly and her family upside down, as some people consider them all weirdos while others congregate on their front lawn hoping for more miracles.
Interwoven with the “modern” story of Molly and her family is the background story of her mom, Elaine, growing up in Brooklyn with her brother Stephen. Born in 1904, Elaine lives through quite an interesting era in New York urban history. Her mother and a sister die in the big flu epidemic, her feckless father turns to alcoholism and cannot be relied upon (he also finally dies), and it is left to Elaine to keep her brother and herself together. They navigate some difficult times but do have some adults who pop up to render aid at critical junctures. Being young and with little guidance, Elaine nevertheless does a pretty good job, except for one big mistake which she hides even from her brother but which is satisfactorily addressed by the end of the book (thanks to Molly’s ad in the NYT).
This is a serious story containing some big questions for readers to ponder. There are a couple of instances of bad language (the father says “hell” twice), and a couple of instances of child abuse (drunk father whaling on one of his kids). There is teenage sex but it is not rendered in a graphic manner. There is really nothing in this book which should hinder its purchase and placement on a school library shelf. However, it did read to me more like an adult contemporary story, so I’m not sure how appealing it will be to the average teenager. The lessons and outcomes are positive, but the book has a somber tone to it.