World War II was in full-force when Dory Byrne’s father left to fight. Now Dory and her two brothers are on their own, with their father’s assurance that the community will help them while he’s gone. Nothing Else but Miracles by Kate Albus (Margaret Ferguson Books, September 2023) tells the story of this spunky tween as she finds the everyday miracles around her. Although I personally was disappointed in the story (especially after Albus’ A Place to Hang the Moon, which I loved), a unique setting and independent characters provide a memorable look at families left behind during World War II.
There are some spoilers in these review, because I don’t think I can talk about my hesitations without providing some of those. In some respects, Dory Byrne is a loveable character: she is determined, self-directed, and daring. But, from my perspective she was too dishonest, which grated on my nerves as she manipulated the people around her and lied to family and friends in her loving community, even to the point of bringing herself in possible danger.
For example, while she did find a way to get her and her brothers a new place to live (a major plot point), Dory lied to the owner of the building, who was helping to feed them while her father was away. For weeks they snuck in through windows, and even at the end, there was no resolution with the kind man who had been unknowingly hosting three children. Although she helped Pike and Fish have fun experiences, she mostly did so through dishonesty. She snuck them into a movie theater. For example, she pretended they had lost their parents, thus crying to impressionable old people to get free tickets to the Empire State Building. She lied to their neighbors and stole money from the money jar, even when they had so little they could have starved. The good and helpful people around her didn’t deserve this treatment.
There were sweet moments in the book. I enjoyed seeing Dory’s growing friendship with Vincent, who also had a father fighting in Europe. I loved Dory’s growing realization that, despite her constant griping about how she needed a miracle, everything that she did everyday could be recognized as miracles (hence the title).
I also loved Kate Albus’ writing. As with A Place to Hang the Moon, she has sly asides, such as comments like “There is never just one rat” when the text states that Dory told herself it was just one rat. Her comments on Dory’s quirks added humor to the story. And Dory was funny too. And, while there is a suggested treasure to be found, a twist at the end gives the book a slightly more reasonable and sweet resolution.
In the end, Nothing Else But Miracles is a well-written and clever middle grade novel of World War II, but for me it falls very short of the majesty of other novels of the about this historical era, and the blatant dishonesty seriously brings the book down in my esteem as a worthwhile novel for middle grade readers.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advance review copy of this book provided by the publisher via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.