Small, landlocked, and economically depressed in 1933, the English town of Cradle Cross isn’t a place one goes for an adventure. The main industry, a factory specializing in buttons made of horn, is in decline due to the rise of artificial materials, the populace is poor and dissatisfied, and old-fashioned beliefs die hard. When the mysterious Isa Fly appears at a Cradle Cross chip shop, 13-year-old Ruby Tailor is immediately captivated. Orphaned at a young age and raised by her distant (and occasionally cruel) grandmother, Ruby longs for a mother figure, and Isa seems willing to indulge her need. Isa is searching for her long-lost sister on behalf of her father, Moonie Fly—a man who, at one time, supposedly lived in Cradle Cross, although nobody has a memory of him. Isa’s bizarre physical appearance, combined with her seemingly fruitless quest, provokes curiosity and then suspicion in the townsfolk, with the exception of Ruby and Truda Blick, the remaining heir to the town’s button factory.
The mystery at the core of Ruby’s Spoon is complex and layered, and the underlying themes of familial love and betrayal, cultural and industrial change, and fear of the unknown are timeless. Much of the dialogue is written in the unique dialect of England’s Black Country and begs to be read aloud. Ruby is caught between childhood and adulthood—she has the curiosity and innate trust of a child, but is sophisticated enough to understand adult emotion and motivation. Pietroni keeps Isa Fly a mystery to both the townsfolk and the reader throughout the book, saving the big reveal for a very satisfying ending. In turns modern and folkloric, this is an ambitious and unique debut.