No Vacancy

House of Anansi/Groundwood. Sept. 2020. 144p. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781773064109.
Gr 4-6–Miriam Brockman needs a miracle. Her family has relocated from New York City to a tiny (population 510) town in rural New York State. With no experience, they’ve purchased and plan to run a small motel. Upon arrival, they discover the motel is dilapidated and a fiscal disaster. The opportunity to create a miracle presents itself when newfound friend Kate gives Miriam a tour of the town. The 11-year-olds spot an oval rust stain resembling a woman with a halo on the screen of the abandoned drive-in theater. Kate thinks the shape looks like the Virgin Mary and uses a knife to add a crucifix-shaped slash next to it. It’s not long before news of the religious image is picked up by the media and the town is teeming with visitors, many seeking their own religious experience. The girls realize their hoax has gotten out of hand but face a dilemma: The influx of tourists is a much-needed economic boon for the town, especially for the family’s motel. Skillfully woven into the plot are details of Miriam’s Jewish faith—its rituals, history and the disturbing reality of anti-Semitism in today’s world. A shocking act of vandalism against the hotel and a near tragedy involving Miriam’s younger brother show the predominantly Christian community coming together to support the family despite their differences.
VERDICT A leisurely paced, character-rich tale of family, religious faith, and the human need for the miraculous. Strongly recommended for middle grade collections.

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