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THE CASE AGAINST MY BROTHER
By Libby Sternberg
Bancroft Press, 2007 ($19.95)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
In the fall of 1922, America is slowly recovering from the aftermath of the Great War, but a new fear is sweeping the country. People with "un-American" names, like Matuski, are suspect. If those people are Catholic, it's even worse.
Carl Matuski, age fifteen, and his seventeen-year-old brother Adam grew up in Baltimore, in a neighborhood of immigrants who share their faith. When their mother dies, Adam convinces Carl that they should move across the country to live with their Uncle Pete in Portland, Oregon. It doesn't take Carl long to realize this may not have been a good decision. In a town where most people have names like Miller and Winston and attend Protestant churches, he feels like a fish out of water. He can't afford to go to school, but he finds a job in a Catholic girls' school and delivers newspapers to help with the family finances. Adam has not done as well in finding gainful employment, although he did work briefly on a plumbing job in a wealthy family's home. He fell for the Petersons' daughter, but her father put a quick stop to that romance. When expensive jewelry goes missing from the home, Adam is the first and only suspect. He goes into hiding while his little brother tries to clear his name.
Carl is a wonderful character, tough, resilient, and fiercely loyal to his friends and family. He is also at times a little lost boy, missing his familiar surroundings and the friends he grew up with. As he works to solve the mystery of the missing jewels, he learns that Adam is not the boy he thought he was, but a lazy lout with a penchant for gambling and hanging out in speakeasies. Still, Adam IS family. He decides to use the power of the press to clear Adam's name, convincing a local ace reporter to help him. He also attempts to fight back against the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic contingent. For his efforts, he runs afoul of some very bad people who deal in gambling, extortion, blackmail, and murder, and he sees firsthand the fear mongering of the Ku Klux Klan. He learns some hard lessons, but manages to stay strong.
The author based the story on true events, including the Oregon School Question, an anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic referendum to outlaw all private schools, including parochial schools. She weaves the historical information seamlessly into the story. Carl presents a sympathetic and very human face to an ugly and dangerous time. This is aimed at the young adult audience, but this older adult enjoyed it and learned from it, and I think other grownups will too.
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