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A 1991 middle-grade novel by Mary Downing Hahn, Stepping on the Cracks follows the families of young soldiers back at home in Maryland during World War II, particularly eleven-year-old Margaret and her best friend Elizabeth, who both have older brothers fighting. They discover that their bully, Gordy Smith, is hiding his conscientious objector older brother Stuart, leading to an uneasy state of affairs that tests their belief in the war, and their ability to keep secrets.


This novel contains examples of:
  • Abusive Parents: Mr. Smith is a drunk who beats his wife and children. after finding out Stuart is hiding in the area, he beats him so badly that he defend him in one ear, which keeps him from being sent overseas once the army gets him back.
  • Actual Pacifist: Stuart, which is why he deserted rather than go over to fight.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Donald Smith, for all of his bad reputation and flaws, he sent a letter home to his brothers describing how War Is Hell which contributed to Stuart's desertion. Gordy shows some little brother instinct in working to keep Stuart hidden and fed despite not quite understanding the reasons behind his desertion.
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  • The Bully: Gordy Smith. He and Stuart also have a Big Brother Bully in Donald, the oldest of the Smith children.
  • Character Development: Almost everyone gets some.
  • Cool Big Bro: Stuart to Gordy. Jimmy and Joe to Margaret and Elizabeth.
  • Dirty Coward: The two safety patrols who refuse to report Gordy's bullying.
  • Kind Hearted Cat Lover: Gordy's little sister is noticeably nicer than he is and is upset whenever anyone mistreats her scrawny cat, Mittens.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Gordy and Stuart have five siblings (Donald, Junie, two little boys named Ernest and Victor, and an unnamed baby).
  • Pom-Pom Girl: The main characters look up to Barbara, a gentle, athletic recently-graduated cheerleader whose late husband was the quarterback. Barbara gets along well with the sensitive and bookish Stuart, once stood up to his Big Brother Bully, and doesn't resent Stuart's choice to be a conscientious objector.
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  • Posthumous Character: Barbara's husband Butch and Harold Bedford (the son of Margaret's neighbors) are both repeatedly mentioned as soldiers who've died in the war over the past year.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Butch Brown, the school quarterback, who died in Italy, left behind a baby son he never got a chance to see.
  • True Companions: Surprisingly, Gordy's two friends are this with him, helping him hide Stuart largely out of personal loyalty.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Donald and Gordy Smith have grown up to be trouble-making, mean-spirited bullies (although both have some Hidden Depths). However, Margaret's mother recalls how Donald would play with her son and his friends when they were all younger, and that Gordy would watch from the wagon that Donald and their brother Stuart loved to carry him around town in.
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