Stepping on the Cracks

Written by Mary Downing Hahn
Review by Sonia Gensler

In a small Maryland town in 1944, the specter of world war shadows everyone’s lives. Eleven-year-old Margaret is eager for news of Allied advances, for her brother Jimmy fights in Europe. Her best friend Elizabeth can sympathize, having a brother of her own fighting in the Pacific. Both girls believe the war is a just one, and that it’s only a matter of “breaking Hitler’s back” before their brothers are home safe. They know others have lost loved ones, but neither can imagine the violence actually touching their own families.

At the opening of the story, Margaret’s main concern is how to avoid Gordy, the local bully. Gordy is vicious and violent – for no good reason, as far as she and Elizabeth are concerned. The girls are furious when he wrecks the tree house they worked so hard to construct. But when they search out Gordy’s forest hideout to exact revenge, they learn a disturbing secret. Further revelations follow, changing their perception of the boy and his family. Ultimately, these secrets will alter their understanding of the war itself.

First published in 1991, this reprinted edition features an eye-catching new cover. The story itself is well paced, multi-layered, and poignant, raising issues about war and patriotism that young readers will find relevant today. Hahn’s own memories of wartime College Park, Maryland, enhance the intimate feel of the setting. A winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, this novel is recommended for readers 9 and up.