Boston, 1919. It’s been a terrible year for thirteen-year-old Joshua Harper. The influenza pandemic that’s sweeping the world has claimed his father’s life; his voice has changed, so he can’t sing in the Boston Boys’ Choir anymore; and now money is tight, so he must quit school to get a job. It’s not fair!
Joshua begins working as a newspaper boy, hawking papers on the street, but he soon finds himself competing with Charlestown Charlie, a tough, streetwise boy who does not make things easier for Joshua. It seems that fitting in is not as easy as it once was. Then disaster strikes the city of Boston. Joshua must do what he can to help, and in doing so he finds the place—and the voice—that he thought he’d lost.
This remarkable novel is fast-paced, suspenseful, and based on true incidents in Boston history.
Harlow's (Star in the Storm) novel, set in 1919 Boston, touches on some tough issues, including child labor, death and the Great Molasses Flood (due to the explosion of a molasses tank). After the death of 13-year-old Joshua's father, his Boston Brahmin mother takes in boarders (whom Josh has to call aunt and uncle to throw off the neighbors), and the boy must quit school to help earn money. Newsboy kingpin Charlestown Charlie (a tough Irish immigrant) presses Josh into service as a "newsie," and Josh is also hired to sneak story leads to their boarder, "uncle" Marc Muggeridge, an editor for the Boston Traveler. Though the author stacks the odds against Josh, the conflicts tend to fizzle. For example, Mr. Muggeridge feeds Josh the idea that he should buy his own papers rather than work for Charlie and then offers to fight Josh's battle for him. Likewise the picture of rough-and-tumble street life seems fairly tame. The titular song refers to the loss of the hero's famous soprano voice (a talent that makes him known even to the mayor) and his refusal to sing even at his father's funeral until he shares his gift to help a victim of the molasses flood. Despite colorful details based on actual events, the novel's ending wraps everything up a bit too neatly. Ages 9-12.