Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Tough Times

Tough Times

Milton Meltzer
Historical Fiction
For ages 10 and up
Clarion Books, 2007   ISBN: 978-0618874453

Since the Great Depression began Joey's life has been getting steadily more difficult. His father, who washes windows for a living, is getting less and less work as more people have less money to spend. As a result Joey has to work to help make ends meet. Every morning, before dawn, he helps the local milkman make his delivery. The work is hard and in the winter it is miserable, but every cent counts these days.

Joey has a girlfriend called Kate whose father is a newspaper writer, and for a time it looks as if Kate's family is going to be all right. Then Mr. Williams writes an article about the terrible economic and social conditions in New England's one industry towns. Because his article is so honest about the terrible state of affairs in the country, Mr. Williams' employer fires him. Now Kate's family is also in dire straits.

In addition to the worry about living from day to day Joey and his friends and family are also concerned about what will happen to the Bonus Army. Soldiers who served in the Great War are demanding that the government give them the bonus that they were promised. The government shows no signs of honoring their promise and so the ex-soldiers are now gathering in Washington D.C. The hope is that their presence will encourage the government to do something positive for a change.

Both Joey's father and the milkman he works for are veterans of the Great War, and they could do with the bonus they are due. And so Joey, his father, the milkman, and the milkman's teenage son go to Washington, D.C. What they find there is worse than anything they could have imagined.

There is no doubt that this is a sobering story. It is hard to imagine that there ever was a time when life in America was so hard, and yet many of the things described in this book really did happen. There was a Bonus Army, thousands did loose their jobs and their homes, and hundreds of children did end up living on the streets, traveling up and down the country on trains. Young readers who are not familiar with this period in American history will really get a sense of what it was like to live in those times because Milton Meltzer perfectly captures the desperation, fear, and anger that was rife during the Depression years.