It’s nine o’clock on Friday morning, and Mrs. Goldberg is definitely dead.

With that kind of first line I was pulled into this compelling drama set in 1975 Atlantic City, New Jersey.

13-year-old Joey narrates the story. He and his three brothers are spending the summer at their grandparent’s struggling hotel in Atlantic City. Joey feels unnoticed in his Jewish family but someone else does notice him. It’s a gangster known as the King of Steel Pier. They first meet while Joey is showing off his Skee-Ball skills. Artie treats Joey as one of the boys and gives him a job hanging out with his visiting daughter who turns out to be a few years older than Joey.

Next comes another request that makes Joey super uncomfortable. He’s asked to hide a package at his grandparent’s house—contents unknown. Not such a great idea, but it takes some time for Joey to realize that he’s going to need the help of his older brothers to escape from the grips of the King. Family turns out to be more important than anything else.

Joey’s voice is honest and funny. Atlantic City has gone downhill in the time before casinos arrived. You feel like you know the place along with the Boardwalk and Steel Pier.

A page turner with writing that sparkles. One of my favorites this year.

BOOK BIRTHDAY: September 1, 2022 PAGE COUNT: 248


  1. You get insights into the Jewish religion along with Joey questioning his beliefs. It’s an honest portrayal of what a young kid like Joey goes through trying to make sense of what is happening in his life and the stereotypes present in his community about being Jewish. It’s a sub plot that doesn’t take over the story in this coming of age gem.
  2. A great motivator for young readers to begin exploring their own family history.
  3. The author lived through this era and it shows in every scene.
  4. Emotions erupt in realistic fashion. A middle grade novel with a teen character but certainly appropriate for the 8-12 year olds.
  5. A connection and empathy you experience toward Joey. It doesn’t always happen MG stories but is carried out here in marvelous fashion.


Stacy Nockowitz is a middle school librarian and former language arts teacher with more than 25 years of experience in middle school education. Stacy received her BA from Brandeis University and holds Master’s Degrees from Columbia University Teachers College and Kent State University. She is also an MFA candidate in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Stacy received a PJ Library Writer’s Incentive Award in 2020 for her debut novel THE PRINCE OF STEEL PIER, coming in September 2022 from Kar-Ben Publishing. An unrepentant Jersey Girl, Stacy still teases her hair and uses plenty of spray. When she’s not writing or matching great kids with great books, Stacy can most likely be found reading or rooting on her beloved Philadelphia Eagles. Her kids have flown the coop, so Stacy lives in central Ohio with her husband and their cat, Queen Esther. Find her on Twitter @snockowitz or at


About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
This entry was posted in Historical fiction, Middle Grade Book Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. I’ve heard good things about this book 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  2. carolbaldwin says:

    this sounds terrific. Thanks for highlighting it.

  3. What a great opening! Your review really makes me want to read this book about family. And you wrote just enough that you didn’t give enough of the story away — thus leaving me with questions. Look forward to reading this book — especially since it is a favorite of yours.

  4. Wonderful opening line. This sounds like a fun book. I’ll put it on my list. Thanks for the review.

  5. petespringerauthor says:

    As others have stated, that opening line gets one’s attention. I’m picking up this book based on your review, Greg. It sounds excellent, and I commend Stacy for writing it. As a retired middle-grade educator, my favorite books to read as a teacher were those unafraid to tackle more challenging subjects. I think there’s no better time to address these issues than in the middle grades.

  6. Antoinette Truglio Martin says:

    Terrific first line! Sounds like a good read, for sure.

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