Historical fiction is a great way to help young readers understand current events. I read this book while Hurricane Harvey was devastating the Gulf Coast in Texas. While the conditions of the flooding are different, the end results are the same. The author based this story on her own family's experience living through this flood; it was interesting to read that the brothers marked the flood level in the garage, and that the house is still standing! This is ultimately a hopeful story about living through and overcoming disaster.
The details about daily life are accurate, but might surprise readers. The fact that Venus is not Catholic is bad enough, but that her mother is divorced? Scandalous. Again, there are many issues today with people from difference religious backgrounds getting along, and it's all too easy to forget that not very long ago, the Catholic/Protestant division was very, very important. Perhaps in 80 years, it will be just as unremarkable to have Muslim neighbors. There are other, more frivolous details as well-- knickers, ice boxes, and popular radio shows are just a start.
The drama between the brothers, as well as the socioeconomic divide between Pete's house on Fifth Street, which should be safe from the flood, and his friend Richie's house closer to the river that is prone to flooding, add interesting dimensions to the book, but the real draw is the flood. Through short chapters, first from Pete's perspective and then from Gus's, we see day by day and hour by hour how the water rises, and what devastation it causes. There's a light but palpable tension as Pete tries to keep his family safe but unaware of how bad things are, and Gus's decision to travel out into the midst of the problem steps the tension up a notch.
The short chapters help to really move the story along. Readers who enjoy survival stories with lots of action and adventure will want to add Not on Fifth Street to their pile of books containing Will Hobbs, Gary Paulsen, and Terry Lynn Johnson titles.