Whistling in the Dark is the story of Sally and Troo, two pre-adolescent sisters growing up in a working-class Milwaukee neighbourhood in the late 1950s. Behind the usual nostalgia for childhood in a simpler time is a dark shadow: two young girls have been molested and murdered in the neighbourhood in the last year, and little girls like Sally and Troo are living in fear. And their home life is no refuge: their daddy is dead; their mom is in hospital, possibly dying, and their new stepfather is worse than useless — he’s gone most of the time and drunk when he’s home.
The story is narrated in Sally’s engaging and believable (though occasionally slightly too-cute) voice. Kagen does a great job of presenting the naive child narrator dealing with very adult topics and allowing the reader to see what’s really happening more clearly than Sally herself does. Both major and minor characters are well-drawn and the story moves along quickly to a heartwarming conclusion.
When I’d finished reading this book I looked for a place to shelve it and found that it fit nicely next to Anna Quindlen’s Blessings and Sue Millers While I Was Gone. Not just because it’s almost exactly the same size, but because it’s similar to both books — an enjoyable book that I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys contemporary women’s fiction, although not one that rocked my world or that I’ll be likely to reread again and again.
Then I remembered that I’d borrowed the book from my mom, and that instead of finding shelf space, I’d need to return it. But I still think that theoretically, I found the right spot on the bookshelves fot it. It’s a good story, well told, with a few flaws but not ones serious enough to spoil my enjoyment as a reader.