Thursday, April 9, 2015

Catch You Later, Traitor by Avi

It's 1951 and for 12 year-old Pete Collison life is all about the Brooklyn Dodgers, Sam Spade mystery stories, and his best friend Kat A/K/A Katherine Boyer.  He could completely live without his older brother Bobby, who thinks only about rockest and getting into an elite science camp run by am aeronautical government agency, and the NY Giants because what self-respecting Brooklynite would root for any other team than the Dodgers?  Yes, life was pretty ordinary for Peter Collison.

Until one Thursday morning in April, when everything changed.  Suddenly, Pete's teacher Mr. Donovan started picking on him, his friends started to avoid him and even things with Kat felt different.  To top it all off, when Pete got home from school that day, there was a mysterious phone call from a stranger telling him he has to help, but help who? and why?

Pete figures out that Mr. Donovan has said something to the class about his parents, but no one, not even Kat, will tell him what.  The next day, a Friday, Pete's seat in class is changed to last seat, last row -the public school equivalent of no man's land.  And by the end of the day, Pete realizes that his teacher thinks his father is a Communist and had spoken to the class about it on Wednesday when he was out of the room.

At home that day, there is another mysterious phone call asking if Pete would help.  Suddenly, Pete has a lot to think about.  Could his father, a professor of American History at City College, really be a commie?  And even if he did have some affiliation with the Communist Party, who told the FBI about it?  What, Pete asked himself, would Sam Spade do?  His answer - poke around, look for clues, watch, listen and wait, keep everything to himself until he figured things out.

Things seem to just go downhill for Pete.  He's constantly followed by the FBI, who want him to spy on his father, Kat is sent away to boarding school because of him, and the only friend he seems to have left is the blind neighbor he reads to once a week.  To top it all off, after putting his best Sam Spade detecting methods to work, Pete discovers some incriminating family history from the Great Depression that could land his dad in jail.  And now his dad is being called before the Subversive Activities Control Board.  Can all of Pete's clues and information help his dad now?  Or will it only hurt his case?

Catch You Later, Traitor is told in the first person by Pete, who at times tells his story in the language and style of a Sam Spade novel.  This gives the story lots of period flavor and also serves to introduce information which would otherwise be awkward or distracting to include, but necessary to the story.  But that is part of Avi's strength as a writer.

And Avi always manages to produce clever page-turning historical fiction.  Infused with the big story, here McCarthyism and the Red Scare of the early 1950s are real details about living in Brooklyn at that time.  His stylized narration reminded me so much of his two earlier books, Don't You Know There's a War On? and Who was that Masked Man, Anyway? All three books are written in the protagonists favorite form of entertainment - detective novels, snappy slang and radio shows.  I like to think of these as Avi's Brooklyn trilogy.

If Avi is good at capturing the micro-flavor of a time and place, he is also able to realistically represent more complicated macro-events of a period.  McCarthyism was a movement that bred so much fear and ignorance, and that impacted so many lives, including Sam Spade author Dashiell Hammett.  The McCarran Act gave the government license to hunt down anyone they thought might be a subversive and as we see with Pete's dad, if a person couldn't or was unwilling to give names of other Communist party members or sympathizers, they could be imprisoned.  FBI intimidation/bullying tactics are also realistically portrayed.

I think Catch You Later, Traitor is a good introductory novel to this complicated era, and nicely explores themes of loyalty, friendship, the meaning of family as well as the rights and freedoms granted Americans under the Bill of Rights.

If you like Avi, this is a book for you; if you are new to Avi's novels, jump in, you are in for a treat.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book is an EARC received from NetGalley

6 comments:

  1. If it's by AVI, you expect it to be good! :) LOVE this cover!

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    1. Those were my feelings, exactly and this didn't disappoint.

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  2. I will jump in. I've heard much about Avi but haven't gotten around to reading his works yet. This sounds like a good one to begin with.

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    1. Avi is pretty prolific and not everything he writes is awesome, but most of his novels are interesting and his topics vary. I hope you give him a try soon.

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  3. A new Avi book!?! And on a subject not usual in kid lit, too. This sounds really intriguing.

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    1. I thought so, too and it doesn't disappoint.

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