Tuesday, August 4, 2020

MG Realistic Fiction review of Stealing Mt. Rushmore by Daphne Kalmar

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Stealing Mt. Rushmore by Daphne Kalmar
Format:  Paperback ARC
Publisher:  Feiwel and Friends
Number of pages:  256
Publishing:  August 18th, 2020
Source: Blue Slip Media and Publisher in exchange for an honest review  

Opening Line:
  "I sat at the kitchen table in front of the fan reading the newspaper waiting for Dad to get home from work."

Stealing Mt. Rushmore takes place in the summer of 1974, just prior to the Nixon impeachment trials.  Nellie and her three brothers are looking forward to a family trip their father had been planning for the past two years to visit Mt. Rushmore.  It'd been a goal of his since returning from Vietnam to show them the monument that had inspired each of the boys names.  They had all the gear, and the five hundred dollars their dad had been stashing away  in the coffee can in the freezer was for their travel expenses.  But now the money is gone, stolen by their mother as she ran away, vanished without a word.  

After their Dad discovers the money is gone, he spirals into a deep depression.  The family is left circling around one another with an overwhelming sadness taking over the house.  Dad seems to cope by spending hours, even days in his room, oblivious to anything going on around him.  Almost a zombie when they pass him in the hall.  (6yo) Teddy has his crayons, cartoons and trips to the duck pond with Nellie, (10yo) Tom has his model kits in the basement and (15yo) George is MIA, most likely out with his friends causing trouble.  Meanwhile (13yo) Nellie has slid into the provider role, hating her mother for leaving but also waiting for her to come back.   Nellie starts to take care of the daily chores, in addition to the babysitting she already does for Teddy, she buys the groceries, pays the bills, makes sure food is on the table and that Teddy doesn't sit in front of the T.V. all day.  Nellie's also determined to find a way to earn the money back so they can make their trip to South Dakota, and hopes the trip is enough too mend her family.  

Stealing Mt. Rushmore is a look into the lives of one family during the 1970's.  At moments it is sad, but at other times will have you yearning for a simpler time, a time of Captain Kangaroo, reading the daily horoscope, Sunday comics, cartoons, Nancy Drew mysteries, eating hotdogs, drinking Kool-Aid and riding your bike with your friend.   Each chapter begins with a snippet of a headline from the Boston Herald American newspaper, covering events surrounding the Nixon impeachment, with an occasional headlines about a bird who was stolen and returned to the zoo.  Reading the paper was important to Nellie and her Dad.  Nellie's mom got her started on reading her horoscope every day, something she continued even after her mother left.    However, Nellie and her Dad were the one's who closely followed Nixon's presidency.  The 70's aren't a period that I usually get to read much about so I appreciated that were some notes about the time period at the back of the book for reference.  It was especially interesting watching Nellie's feelings about Nixon and his presidency evolve the more and more she learned about the Watergate scandal and Nixon's involvement.  I also enjoyed the inclusion of Nellie's daily horoscope into the story, especially seeing what those predications meant to her.

I really admired Nellie, the way she took charge of the situation after her dad checks out on them.  Nellie displayed a lot of determination while trying to earn back the money.  She was focused and took any means possible, be it raking leaves or having a car wash to earn some cash, she was quite creative.  One of her ideas was quite hilarious, but I'll leave that one for you to discover for yourself.  Nellie was in a tough position because of her dad's depression.  She described his separating himself from the family as letting "...the sadness creep in like darkness slips under a bedroom door when the lights in the hall go out."  It's very difficult not to feel sad about how their father was treating them.  Coupled with their mom's abandonment it made a difficult situation that much worse.  I found myself being  vested in these kids and wanting things to turn around for them.  Flipping through the pages quickly to find out what happens.    

Nellie's quite a remarkable character, and defiantly left a lasting impression on me with how she never gave up.  I admired her efforts to pick up the pieces, keeping her brothers needs in front of her own, despite being sad herself over her mom leaving,  feeling abandoned when she needed her mother the most, and not being sure if she had the will to persevere.  Yep, she goes on my list of favorite strong female characters.    Her bravery is also very commendable, the way she stood up to a man mistreating his dog and took the dog home, knowing if her dad found out, she'd have a lot of explaining to do.  That her dad might even get very angry, but also knowing that the dog's presence would bring a small slice of happiness into her brother's lives.   She really grew into herself and gathered her own voice.  And I absolutely loved the moment when she demands some equality and help with the housework from her brothers.  While the ending ends on a happy note, everything isn't tidy and neat, but does leave you feeling hopeful.  Overall this was a fantastic historical fiction and I look forward to any future books written by Kalmar. 

  ** A huge thank you to Blue Slip Media and Feiwel and Friends for the ARC paperback**

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