At first glance, The Summer We Found the Baby, a short novel about a baby discovered in a basket on the steps of the new children’s library in Belle Beach, Long Island, appears to be a sweet snapshot of life in a small town during World War II. But author Amy Hest packs much into its pages—an intricate plot, deeply imagined characters and relationships and adroitly tackled big issues such as death and unplanned pregnancy—and handles it all with delicacy and care.
Alternating rapidly among three narrators—12-year-old Bruno Ben-Eli; his next-door neighbor, 11-year-old Julie Sweet; and Julie’s 6-year-old sister, Martha—the book begins in the morning just before the library’s opening–day celebrations. Julie and Martha have arrived early with a homemade cake for First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, to whom Bruno and Julie have both written letters in the hope that she might attend the day’s festivities. It’s the girls who discover the baby nestled in a basket on the library steps, but it’s Bruno who spots them walking away from the library with the basket. “Holy everything,” he thinks, “Julie Sweet is a kidnapper.”
The action unfolds quickly from this auspicious beginning. With each twist and turn of the plot, Hest is adept at filling in only as much backstory as is needed for each character. The three resourceful children are united by an undertone of sadness and longing. Bruno’s beloved older brother, Ben, is serving overseas, and Julie and Martha’s mother is deceased. The war casts a long shadow over the book’s events, and Hest adds spare but effective historical references throughout the story.
Hest’s prose is wonderfully unadorned, her narrative voices natural and the story deliciously satisfying. The Summer We Found the Baby is a quiet wonder and a rare delight.