After losing her house and her father to the Depression, 11-year-old Elsie moves into the garage behind their Vancouver house with her mom, grandmother, and out-of-work uncle. Times are tight, but Elsie keeps busy with her best friend Scoop, exploring hobo shantytowns and trying to find out what the big deal is with the local dance marathon. When her mother and uncle disappear, too, Elsie and Scoop have a bigger mystery than the dance marathon on their hands.
It was interesting to read a Depression-era book set in Canada, especially one involving the controversial dance marathons popular at the time. Although dance marathons seem an unlikely topic for a middle grade book, Peterson makes it work, keeping the history interesting and personal to Elsie. Her attention to detail in even the smallest actions – games, snacks, secret handshakes – bring her characters to life in a way that young readers will identify with. Elsie and Scoop are kids, regardless of the time, and easily carry the story along, despite the serious topics.