Both rural and city life of the Great Depression come alive in Nissa’s Place. Two years after her free-spirited mother left the family and bigoted small Louisiana town, 13-year-old Nissa is contending with a new stepmother, catty neighbors, and the changes happening in her own body. When a visit from her mother sets both family and town to new levels of combustion, Nissa accepts her mother’s invitation to come to Chicago, her new home.
There, Nissa is overwhelmed by both the city and her mother’s new life in a down-on-its-heels grand hotel trying to stay afloat by turning its ballroom into a theater. But she helps create set pieces, costumes, props, and a roof garden. After a visit the Chicago library, she heads home with a mission, one not without complications in her segregated town.
The strong, willful Nissa is both a great companion to her mother and a wonderful counterpoint to her steady immigrant father and genteel stepmother. The world of Depression-era theater is refreshingly centered not on actors, but rather on those seldom-sung magicians behind the scenes. Nissa’s finding of her place in family and town is lyrically told, with tolerance and understanding that only the great-hearted achieve. Highly recommended.