Living one-half block from a state hospital for the mentally ill during 1946 Post-World War II, keeps Janie Webster busy trying to figure out nearly everyone, especially the adults in her life. From runaway inmates to recovering patients, ten year old Janie is intent on rescuing people. Things do not always go in her favor. Janie’s parent’s marriage is disintegrating. Her father cannot find work due to his avoidance of the military during the war. Additionally, Janie’s parents disagree on the existence of God, leaving Janie torn in two. Janie’s manic-depressive neighbor works hard to convince Janie that there is only one path to Heaven and to God. When his wife disappears, Janie believes he is innocent and tries to intervene.
While things begin to fall apart in Janie’s world, things seem to improve in her best friend Eddie’s. Steve, the church janitor, offers Eddie the opportunity to compete in a Soap Box Derby. Shy, physically abused, and socially awkward Eddie, begins to blossom building his own derby car and working with Steve. Eddie shines in the competition, but disappears the following day. Janie becomes obsessed with finding him. She is certain he did not run away, as his foster parents insist. As the police investigate, Janie becomes more and more aware of police partiality as they label Eddie nothing but a troubled runaway. She comes to believe the police see Eddie as just a poor kid in foster care, and it is more convenient to dismiss his vanishing then to actually find him.
In her search for answers about the heaven and the after- life, Janie sneaks into the vacant house of her recently deceased piano teacher. Intent on finding her teacher’s ghost, she stumbles into another life lesson. While crouching in the darkened stairwell, Janie inadvertently overhears an adolescent student in a sexual liaison. Moments later, Janie overhears the cruel abandonment of the same student by the partner. This event occurs as Janie is beginning to confront her own body’s sexual development and growth into womanhood.
Janie also regularly visits Emily a mental institution resident. Emily’s mental health improves whereby she is now able to walk outside the hospital and obtain part-time work. Additionally during this time, Janie meets local migrants and observes their culture. This experience allows Janie to more fully understand social prejudice and the meaning of class status. Janie’s budding maturity and greater self-confidence is strengthened by her growing awareness of “isms”, like the local country club sign “Gentiles Only”, the term “wetback”, and pervasive anti-Catholic sentiment. It is this budding personal resolve, along with another neighbor’s disappearance, that finally brings Janie to personally confront the police.
During the summer of 1946, Janie Webster learns to rely on herself, find her own strengths, and to come to terms with the complicated nature of what it means to be an adult. Incomplete Diary of Good and Evil examines her journey.
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