The Hungarian village of Tisza-Eszlar in 1882 is the setting for this harrowing story of anti-Semitism and blood libel – the ancient lie that Jews kill Christian children for ritual purposes. With a brute for a father and a mother dying of cancer, young Julie does the best she can caring for herself and her beloved little sister. She has little contact with the Jewish community, but has a tentative friendship with young Morris, the rabbi’s son, and is grateful for the medicine the Jewish doctor gives her to ease her mother’s pain.
When Julie’s friend Esther disappears after being sent on an errand by her cruel mistress, the town’s suspicions center around the Jews among them. Julie’s mother dies and her father sends her sister away to live with a cruel aunt while Julie goes to work. Meanwhile the town’s suspicions grow. Morris is manipulated and coerced like the puppet of the title to give false testimony against his father and the men accused of Esther’s death. But when Esther’s body is found in the river, doubt is cast. It is up to Julie to convince judge and jury that they have no case.
Wiseman used court transcripts of the time to tell her dramatic and eloquent tale. While her plot illuminates a shameful history, her besieged narrator provides notes of grace amid the hardship and cruelty of the adult world around her. Young adult literature at its best. Ages 11 and up. Highly recommended.