Something Terrible Happened on Kenmore by Marci Stillerman
Publisher: WestSide Books
Genre: Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (200 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Cholla
Set against the backdrop of a child murder in 1930s-era Chicago, three teenagers’ lives are about to change dramatically. From different sides of the tracks, Zane and Fred forge a bond through their shared love of cartooning. But Fred quickly realizes that Zane has a dark undercurrent, especially when he violates Maizy, the sturdy but naïve working-class neighborhood girl whose lack of self-esteem and lifelong love for Zane overwhelm her judgment. Meanwhile, Zane’s father harbors a shocking secret that only Maizy and Fred discover, and the events that follow lead all three teens to make difficult, life-changing decisions. Told with compassion and honesty from each teen’s perspective, Something Terrible Happened on Kenmore unflinchingly examines love and loss, friendship and sexuality, all significant factors on the path to becoming an adult.
When the desperation of the Great Depression reaches its darkest, it’s not only the adults that suffer its dire consequences. Children of all ages are drawn into the darkness along with their parents, friends and relatives. Fred, Zane, and Maizy are only three of them, but their story rings true across the decades. You’ll be touched by their stories, angered at their inability to save themselves, and rejoice as they find their way through one of the most difficult times in American history.
While told from alternating perspectives, from the very beginning I felt like Fred was the main character of sorts. He’s the new kid on Kenmore and is learning his way around the area and the people. He seems to be the most average of the three narrators and I liked him a lot. He battles the constant tide of wants vs. what is right and he handles things well usually. While he makes his mistakes, I do believe that they’re all made for the right reasons. For me, Fred was the most relatable of the narrators and I could identify with his situation at home.
Zane is the minister’s son and the only kid from the right side of the tracks. Despite being rich, he feels like he doesn’t fit in with the kids from his own street so he hangs out on Kenmore where the kids are more honest and real. He starts out as an arrogant, self-absorbed rich kid but, as the story progresses he’s forced to change a lot. Of the three, he probably grows the most over the course of the novel. His faith is broken and he’s forced to rebuild, not something that comes easily to a sixteen-year-old. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in his shoes for anything.
Maizy was probably my favorite narrator. Her unrequited love for Zane and her honest, if simple, outlook on life was different from any of the others in the novel. Forced to stay home and care for her brother, Maizy’s life revolves around her front porch. She’s profoundly affected by the murder that starts the story off and it haunts her thoughts. I appreciated her complete and total devotion to her brother and the honest way she interacted with everyone who passed her way. She still had hopes and dreams, even knowing that most would never come to fruition. But it didn’t stop her from hoping for a better life for them all.
Despite the rather bleak circumstances that set the stage for this coming of age novel, the trueness of the narrators’ voices shine through the darkness. I loved the way that the narrator changed, each revealing just a piece of the mystery surrounding the murder haunting Kenmore, giving you the briefest of glimpses into the answer to it all. Very well written in an easy to read style, Something Terrible Happened on Kenmore is a stark and yet hopeful portrait of a teenager’s life in Depression-Era Chicago. Things were by no means easy, but there was still hope on the horizon.