Thursday, September 9, 2010

Striving for Normal

Keeping loved ones safe has been a priority since the Cave Man fended off a wild beast at the mouth of his cave. If we think we are the first to worry about terrorist threats, history will show us that we must be a pretty hardy bunch or we wouldn’t still be here.

COUNTDOWN by Deborah Wiles, Scholastic Press, 2010

This is called a documentary novel because the story is interspersed with news clips from 1962. Viet Nam. Civil Rights. Castro and Cuba.

In the meantime, beyond those news clips, college graduates signed up for the military or attended interviews for jobs, young people said “I do” in large numbers, babies arrived on their own schedule, usually, and life was lived despite the ever present fear that “an atomic bomb could ruin your day.” (Bumper sticker this writer followed for several hours on a traffic clogged highway under construction.)

At home, the threat of an atomic bomb sent families scurrying to their basements to build bomb shelters. At school, children practiced duck and cover drills in the hallways.

Set against this background, the lives of 11 year old Franny Chapman and her family and friends unfold. The physical setting is Camp Springs, Maryland near Washington D.C. Personnel from Andrews Air Force Base lived there and did their best to create a semblance of normal life.

The characters are fictional, but the author has personal ties to the time and place. Rich details from her own life informed the story. Aprons. Headbands that stretched out of shape. (Always.) TV trays. 45 rpm records. Cloakroom. Chalkboards. Women smoking, one way to stake a claim for equality of the sexes. Franny struggles to communicate telepathically, a problem now solved by incessant texting.

This is Book 1 of the Sixties Trilogy, and it’s written for the peacemakers. That’s all Franny wants. Peace with her friends, peace with her mother, peace with the boy across the street who left for a year and came back as every girl’s crush but seems to be a genuine friend to Franny.

Peace is relative when you are eleven. And that’s the way it should be.


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