It is 1925 in the small town of Roslyn, Washington, and the Grape Train has come to town for its annual visit. We meet protagonist Slava “Cuss” (because he can swear in fourteen languages) Petrovich and his friends Skinny and Perks as they plan their daring midnight heist of grapes. We soon become acquainted with Slava’s family, become immersed in the changing times of the town, and cheer Cuss’s desire for schooling while understanding his need to earn money for his family. It is Prohibition, and many of the arriving grapes are destined for wine for local consumption. However, things soon take on a darker hue with the arrival of organized crime, hoping to take control of the sale of bootleg alcohol. After an accident, Cuss’s older brothers have to flee town, leaving the family in a precarious financial situation. When the coal mines start laying off workers, the situation becomes dire.
Franklin has written an engaging book with realistic characters that the reader comes to care for deeply. There is enough action to keep young adult (and adult) readers on the edge of their seats, yet the historical details are vivid. I rarely read young adult books, but I now know I am missing out on some very special books, if this one is something to judge by. For ages 10-13, but I highly recommend it for older readers, too.