Humph! In The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill by Megan Frazer Blakemore, I did not like Hazel Kaplansky much - at first. She is the smartest person she knows and makes no bones about it. She is the kind of smart kid that makes other kids - and grown-ups - annoyed. And she reminded me a lot of....ME! (And, I was NEVER the smartest person I knew, but I didn't KNOW that.)
It's 1953. The Switzer Switch and Safe factory in town has been targeted for investigation into the possibility of Communist infiltration. Luckily, Hazel's parents run the town cemetery. But, their new grave-digger, Paul Jones, has all of Hazel's detective senses trembling. She thinks of him as the Comrade and is this far from proving that he is a Russian spy.
Then Samuel Butler moves into Hazel's fifth-grade class. Samuel is smart. And quiet. And he has secrets. And he likes cemeteries and research. Before too long, Hazel has Samuel helping her with her investigation into who the real spy in town is.
1953 was a time of wide-spread distrust, when neighbors eyed each other for signs of disloyalty, a time like....NOW, for instance. One man used the new media sensation of TV to create panic and spread fear in his need for power and attention. And 10-year-old Hazel swallows the propaganda whole, even while adults around her warn her to use her brains.
Hazel and Samuel have to put up with the same silly shenanigans that middle graders everywhere have to put up with - snide comments, being judged because of who their parents are or because of where they live. As investigations into the factory continue, Hazel overhears adults acting just as mean and petty as their children.
Hazel and Samuel uncover secrets, some innocent, some painful and Hazel redeems herself with an act of courage and kindness just when Samuel needs her most.
Add this to the growing list of fine historical fiction from an author who gets better with each effort.