Author: Mary Downing Hahn
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Audience: ages 11-15. Other sources list the target audience as ages 9-12. While some elements in the book (being bullied, family loyalty, having secrets, relationships with a best friend) will be accessible to younger readers, the book’s themes of coming of age, learning about issues of moral ambiguity and accepting consequences for actions may be comprehensible only to more mature readers.
Summary: Margaret’s brother is fighting in the “war Hitler started,” so her family has a blue star hanging in their living room window. Her best friend Elizabeth also has a brother overseas. Neither girl is really worried. Many of the houses in their town have stars in the windows. Some of the stars are gold, meaning the service man had been killed in the fighting. But Margaret and Elizabeth are not really worried about their brothers. After all, this is a good war, and the Americans and their allies are on the side of right. The girls are more concerned about their war with the class bully, Gordy. But then they learn some secrets: Gordy is secretly caring for his Army deserter brother Stuart in a ramshackle shack in the woods and Gordy’s father batters the entire family. At first, the girls see these secrets as weapons to stop Gordy’s bullying. But when Stuart falls seriously ill, they feel obliged to help him. This decision changes their perceptions of right and wrong.
Literary Elements at work in the story: The setting of the story (the era of World War II) is far enough removed from the present as to make discussion of themes of moral ambiguity “safe.” Present day readers will be intrigued by glimpses of life when their grandparents were children. The themes of coming of age and learning that right and wrong are often not sharply and clearly defined are strong elements in this book.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economic/ability: The book is set in a time when cultural expectations were different. Girls were not encouraged to engage in strenuous physical activity. For example, Margaret’s mother fusses at her for jumping from the front porch railing, saying that she would “ruin” her insides and for using words such as “guts.” People turned a blind eye to battering. Resources to protect and support the victims were not available.
Scripture: Exodus 20:13, Matthew 25:31-40, Colossians 3:12
Theology: Accepting different points of view, Family, Community
Faith Talk Questions:
- How is life for Margaret and Elizabeth in 1944 like yours today? How is it different?
- Elizabeth tells Margaret that “Sometimes you have to fight; you just can’t let bad things happen.” But Stuart tells her that fighting and killing are wrong. Discuss these two points of view. Do you agree with one or both or neither? Why?
- Where do you see brokenness in this book? Where do you see healing?
- Why did Gordy resist asking for help for his brother? When is it hard to ask for help? What can stand in the way of helping? What makes helping easier?
Review prepared by Union Presbyterian Seminary alumna Mary Anne Welch
Stepping on the Cracks by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.