The setting of this American book is unusual. It is based in Roslyn, a small mining town in Washington State, which in 1925 is populated by many immigrant families. The protagonist is nicknamed Cuss because he can swear in fourteen different languages learnt from his neighbours. Cuss’s family – his widowed mother, his sister and three brothers – are not well off and sink to bare subsistence level after two crises. The first is when Cuss’s two older brothers need to flee the town, having fallen foul of mobsters. Then his younger brother’s meningitis and subsequent deafness lead to all their savings being spent on a long and fruitless journey to a specialist. Cuss is a gifted scholar but he must now leave school and find work. This coincides with a downturn in mining. The only solution, it seems, is for Cuss to run away and join his brothers.
This is a heart-warming story, giving a convincing portrayal of a struggling small-town community. Cuss is a likeable character with weaknesses as well as strengths. The other characters are much less developed but the narrative line is strong. Overall, the book will appeal to boys and girls from 10.