Tamara Ann Simpson is still missing her best friend, Kebsie Grobser, who has left foster care to go back to her mother. "Muscle Man" McGinty has taken Kebsie's room and he's trying to take her place in the neighborhood with all his lies. Everyone on Ramble Street seems taken in by Muscle Man's stories, but not Tamara, and she's determined to show everyone that he's really a fraud. When Muscle Man challenges the entire neighborhood to a kickball game, she sees her chance. But things don't quite work out the way she plans.
Nan Marino has written a touching slice-of-life story about an average New York neighborhood in the late 1960s. By telling the story through a fifth-grade girl, she is able to talk about important issues like the Vietnam war and the moon landing without giving any issue the main focus of the story. The major theme of the story is separation and how different people deal with it in different ways. It's obvious from the beginning of the book that Tamara is separated from her best friend; without Kebsie, Tamara has to face the rest of the neighborhood children alone. Gradually, Tamara realizes that she isn't the only person on Ramble Street that is alone, and we see how the entire street is trying to help those folks — even a poor orphan named Muscle Man McGinty.
This was a pretty quick read. Once you start the book, you'll want to keep on reading to find out how things turn out. Adult readers will quickly understand why Muscle Man lies, and why Kebsie is so important to Tamara; younger readers will learn a little bit about trying to understand their classmates. I can see this book used by elementary school teachers especially to teach their classes about welcoming new students to the class and new children to their own neighborhoods. Given the historical context of Neil Armstrong is My Uncle, teachers can also use the book to start discussions about the moon landings and even the war in Vietnam. The age range for this book is 8-12 years, but parents will probably want to read the book with younger children to discuss some aspects of foster care, especially the death of parents.