Hazel Kaplansky is a firm believer in the pursuit of knowledge and truth – and she also happens to love a good mystery. When suspicions swirl that a Russian spy has infiltrated her small town of Maple Hill, Vermont, amidst the fervor of Cold War era McCarthyism, Hazel knows it’s up to her to find a suspect… starting with Mr. Jones, the quietly suspicious grave digger.
Plus, she’s found a perfect sleuthing partner in Samuel Butler, the new boy in school with a few secrets of his own. But as Hazel and Samuel piece together clues from the past and present, the truth is suddenly not what they expected, and what they find reveals more about themselves and the people of their cozy little town than they could ever have imagined.
This is one of those stories where you think you know what’s going on but something entirely different happens instead. When I first read the summary for this story, I thought it was going to be about two kids living in the 1950’s hunting down a Russian spy. Instead this is a multi-layered mystery with advance subjects, taking place during a time of fear and suspicion.
Hazel is relentless, overly dramatic, and thinks too full of herself. With her one-track mind, she’s too focused on catching imaginary communist Russian spies, that she doesn’t see the bigger mystery in her new friend Samuel. Hazel’s character comes off realistic for her age and time period. She thinks she knows more than she actually does and that’s what being a kid is like. In Hazel’s defense, the girl is desperate for attention. Not only is she bullied for living in the middle of a cemetery, her parents tend to spend more time gardening than paying attention to her. She is a good character who has flaws and grows from her mistakes and comes out a better person.
Hazel’s actions mirror what was happening during the Cold War anti-communist crusade; she jumped to conclusions and appointed judgement before learning the whole truth. That being said, I’m not going to try to explain the Cold War or communism any more than that because honestly, I don’t fully understand it. I read this story years ago and I thought I understood the subject. But after listening to the story again on audio I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. The Author’s Note at the end of the book does a better job explaining the Cold War, Joseph McCarthy, and Communism than I ever could.
Basically, this is a good story that takes place in a time period that’s not usually discussed in juvenile fiction.