Lily's Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff Review

Delacorte Press, March, 1997.
Hardcover, 180 pages.
ISBN: 0385321422.
Ordering information:

Cover of Lily's Crossing by
by Patricia Reilly Giff Lily Mollahan lives with her Gram and her father (Poppy) in St. Albans, New York. It is the summer of 1944 and school will be out in just four days. Lily can't wait. She can't wait for piano lessons and Sister Eileen and homework to be behind her. She can't wait to go to her favorite place in the world, Rockaway, where the ocean and free days to write whatever she wants and Gram's house built on stilts and her best friend Margaret, await her just like every summer. Just like every summer Lily crams her suitcase full of books, bathing suits, and stories she has written. Just like every summer Lily carefully pries a gold star off her ceiling where her mother had pasted it years ago and packs it so her mother can be in Rockaway, too. Except this summer, Gram's radio is always blaring war news, news about D-Day and the invasion of France by the Allies. Always cheerful, Poppy hires a truck to move them to Rockaway so Lily can bring an extra suitcase and the piano just for Lily's birthday.

When they get to Rockaway, Lily meets Margaret in Margaret's attic. Margaret has lots of secrets to tell her. They talk over the drone of trainer planes from the naval base. Margaret has a big bag of candy that her mother has been collecting and saving for Margaret's big brother Eddie who is now in the army. Candy is pretty scarce since sugar is rationed. What a treat! There's so much candy maybe Eddie won't miss it if they eat just a little. They wonder if Eddie was there for D-Day. The worst secret of all is Margaret and her family are moving to Detroit until the end of the war where her dad has a job in a factory to build bombers. What will Lily do without her best friend? Margaret does give Lily the key to her house so Lily can have a secret place where she can write and she won't have to hear Gram's radio blaring.

The worst news comes the first weekend Poppy comes out from the city to visit. Poppy is going to war. They need engineers to help put Europe back together again after the war is over. Lily won't even know where he is, but Poppy promises that he will find a way to let her know even if there are censors. Lily is furious. She hates the war. She hates Poppy. She hates Gram. Lily stays so angry at Poppy that she doesn't even go to the station to tell him good-bye. Something that makes her feel bad for a very long time.

A good thing happens that summer, though. Lily discovers Albert. At first she thinks he's a Nazi spy, even if he is only a skinny boy with a lot of curly dark hair. Then she discovers he's a refugee from Hungary who is staying with their neighbors, the Orbans, for the summer. Albert is sad and mad, too. His little sister, Ruth, is still trapped somewhere in France. He didn't get to tell her good-bye either, and he desperately wants to rescue her.

Lily remains suspicious of Albert until together they rescue a drowning cat. Lily offers her secret place at Margaret's house as a home for the kitten. Through their shared attachment to the little creature, they discover all sorts of things they have in common and become very close. They try not to worry about Poppy and Ruth. They try to be regular kids having a regular summer, but it's hard when they are constantly surrounded by reminders of the war raging in Europe especially when they hear Margaret's brother, Eddie has been killed.

One of the things Lily has taught Albert is how to swim. She lies to him half believing it herself that if they swim far enough, they can catch the troop ships heading for Europe that they can glimpse in the far distance. Albert becomes determined to swim to them so he can go back for Ruth. When Lily discovers his plan, she tries to stop him. They make a pact not to lie and to be brave, but not brave enough to try for the ship. Albert is driven to try, though, on a stormy night. He nearly drowns, but Lily saves him. Gram spots them as they struggle back to the safety of her house. In her kitchen all confess their pain, including Gram. She reminds Albert that his parents did brave things so he could have a good life and that his Grandma sent him away so he would be safe. She tells Lily that Poppy went to war for her so she could be safe. She confesses that she herself has suffered because she had to send her only son off to war, but it was worth the price to keep Lily safe.

All too soon, the summer is over and Lily and Gram return to St. Albans for the winter. Lily finally likes school, and she keeps busy writing to Poppy, Margaret and Albert. Suddenly, one day, the door blows open and there is Poppy! He found Ruth while he was in Paris, thanks to Albert and Lily's letters. When he found her, Ruth was sad because she hadn't said good-bye to Albert. That reminds Lily what she did to her father when he left He squeezes her hand and says, " ...saying good-bye didn't matter, not a bit. What mattered were all the days you were together before that, all the things you remembered."

It is the summer of 1945. Lily can't wait for school to be out. She can't wait to go to Rockaway just like every summer except Lily and Gram know it will never be quite the same. Lily wants Albert to be there, her very best friend ever. They get ready to go to the Orban's for dinner just like always when suddenly Gram leans over and says to Lily, "It was a long war, a terrible war, but sometimes, even in the worst times, something lovely happens." Lily looks up and there is Albert standing in the door and beside him is a girl with the same eyes, Ruth. Best friends have made it through the war together.

Patricia Reilly Giff is well known to children for her series, Kids of the Polk Street School among other books. She knows how children talk and think and is able to authentically convey that when she writes. When Ms. Giff writes a story she writes it well. A well-written children's book is one that will hold an adult's attention, too. This is one of those books. It will bring tears to your eyes and laughter to your lips. This beautiful and touching book about friends coming of age and grappling with horrible realities together is brought to life through Ms Giff's skillfully drawn characters, Lily and Albert. Lily's poignant wishes for her father's safety and her saucy bravado will be believable to young readers. Albert's feelings of displacement and yearning for his own family to be reunited by his own doing if necessary will speak to today's boys'own feelings of wanting to be men, yet not quite knowing how to achieve that end. Middle graders will find all the detail of the war times fascinating while loving and identifying with Lily and Albert. Both boys and girls will enjoy this book, and it is one not to be missed.

-- Nancy Littlejohn

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