Two Books by Wisconsin Author Lesley Kagen

Do you remember summertime games at the playground and with the neighborhood kids? Do you remember Sampson the gorilla at the Milwaukee Zoo? Do you like books with a Wisconsin setting? If you can say yes to any of these questions, you probably will like Whistling in the Dark and the sequel Good Graces by Lesley Kagen. Either book can be read separately, but if you read both books, be sure to read Whistling in the Dark first because the sequel Good Graces give away the surprise ending from the first book.

Whistling in the Dark (published 2007) is set in Milwaukee in the summer of 1959. Sally O’Malley is 10 years old. She has a slightly younger sister Troo and an older sister Nell. Sally’s father died in a car crash, but before he died he asked Sally to look after Troo. Sally’s mother soon re-married a brutish drunk, and they moved to Vliet Street in Milwaukee. Sally lets her imagination run wild, but it is not her imagination that there is a child molester and murderer around. The story is narrated by Sally who is sweet and naïve while Troo is much more world-wise. When Helen their mother is hospitalized, their step-father Hall and Nell are supposed to take care of them, but don’t so they fend for themselves. Although the part of the story dealing with a molester and murderer is a serious subject, the overall tone of the book is light, funny, and nostalgic. There are great characters such as Bobby the playground leader; Wendy Latour, a mentally disabled child; Ethel, a black woman who takes care of Mrs. Galecki; Officer Dave Rasmussen, a high school friend of Helen; Mary Lane, the O’Malley sisters’ friend; Fast Susie Fazio, another friend; Granny, the girls’ maternal grandmother; the Goldmans, Jewish refugees; and Sampson the gorilla who lives at the Washington Park Zoo.

The sequel Good Graces (published 2011) is set in the summer of 1960. Sally is still fond of Sampson the gorilla, but he has been moved to the new zoo farther away so Sally cannot see him every day. Sally, Troo, and their mother are living at Dave’s house while their mother recovers and waits for her annulment. Sally is developing warm feelings for Dave while Troo is becoming more difficult and rebellious. There is a new priest at the neighborhood church, Father Mickey, and a cat burglar is in the neighborhood. As in the first book, there is a serious threat in the neighborhood, but there is a good deal of humor. Many of the same characters from Whistling in the Dark appear in Good Graces with the same tone and narration. 

I enjoyed this pair of books by Wisconsin author Lesley Kagen--Whistling in the Dark and Good Graces, and hope you will also enjoy taking a nostalgic trip back to childhood in Milwaukee with a few twists, turns and suprises along the way in the story.


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