Selling Hope


Thirteen-year-old Hope McDaniels is tired of playing vaudeville houses. Her magician father has been dragging her around the country since her mother’s death five years before, but they’ve never made it beyond the small-small-time circuit. She just wants a normal life. When she hears a rumor that her dad may be fired when they get to Chicago, Hope sees her chance. She just needs to save enough money to set them up until he gets another job. Banking on the 1910 Halley’s Comet hysteria, Hope begins selling mints as “anti-comet pills,” with the help of another member of the vaudeville troupe, a young Buster Keaton. As regular customers begin flocking to her for their pills, she’s drawn in by their quiet desperation, and realizes that she’s doing more than selling them fake medicine: she’s selling them hope.

I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish this. I didn’t want to put down the story of tough-talking Hope McDaniels, her phony pills, and her burgeoning crush on Buster Keaton. The author has done her research well and drops me fully into the era. Hope’s voice is lively – interspersed with snappy vaudeville one-liners – and her view of life is delightfully fresh. As hare-brained as her scheme is, it causes her to reevaluate her definitions of fear, family, and home, and she wins my applause for her decisions in the end. Highly recommended.

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