Thursday, January 30, 2014

Matched


I seem to have jumped into the dystopian stream with both feet lately.  I am already formulating a post discussing the current trend in post-apocalyptic literature, but I want to read some more first.  It's very popular among YA readers these days.  THG opened the floodgates, and now all dystopian novels, before Katniss and after, are prominent in libraries.  Personally I enjoy a good journey into the "what-if," so I don't mind reading what my students are reading.  (But no vampire books.  I draw the line at vampires.)

Today's book, Matched, is definitely in the same vein as THG and Divergent, but it has its own refreshing take on the questions of the post-WWIII world.  Instead of being focused on guns, violence, and brute force, it takes a softer, more philosophical approach.  The Society in which Cassia Reyes and her family live is very ordered, very neat, very bright and very clean.  Everything appears to run smoothly.  You almost start to think that this world really wouldn't be so bad after all.  After all, there's no poverty, no violence, everyone gets along and has what they need - really, what is so bad about all that?  What if we had a society where everyone just did what they were supposed to and got along fine without possessions and money?  But just about the time you start to get as comfortable as Cassia is in her cocoon of a world, the underbelly of such a culture starts to be exposed, and as Cassia does, you start to question whether or not things are what they seem, and whether or not any of this is a good idea.  About a third of the way through the novel, an important person in Cassia's life tells her "it's ok to wonder."  From that moment on, Cassia does wonder, about many things she has always accepted without question, and the reader begins to wonder as well. 

One of the things I enjoyed most about this novel is its examination of the importance of creativity.  In the ordered world of the Society, all literature has been boiled down to the Hundreds - the Hundred Songs, the Hundred Poems, the Hundred Stories, etc.  The powers the be decided that their culture was just too cluttered, so they decided what were the most important pieces of art, and they eliminated the rest.  What's more, no one is allowed to add to them.  No one writes songs, or poetry, or books.  In fact, no one knows how to write at all.  Oh, they can type on a touch screen, but no one knows how to pick up a pen and write something longhand.*  It opens up the question of how important such things are.  Is it important to keep imagining?  To keep creating?  What happens to a society when no one creates anything new any longer?  How does that cut off the life of a people?  The storyline about the act of writing intrigued me, because I have had this discussion with other educators.  More and more handwriting is being discarded as a part of the curriculum in favor of typing and technological ways of communication.  Does that matter?  Should people be able to form letters with their hands?  What importance does that have to a person?  To a group?  To a society? 

Interwoven with these themes of wonder and creativity is a lovely little love story that turns Cassia's ordered world upside down.  There is no "team this" or "team that."  You realize fairly early on just who Cassia needs to be with and what that is going to mean for her life and the life of her family.  It's an intense (but clean!) love affair that helps Cassia sees more of who she is and who she could be.  It's a beautiful storyline that promises to carry us into the second and third books. 

Overall, Matched is a nice addition to the dystopian world.  It asks different questions than have been asked before and takes the reader to important places in their minds.  I'm excited to read its sequels and bring more reviews on the series, just as I hope to bring about Insurgent and Allegiant as soon as I track down copies of those and get them read.  In the meantime, I definitely recommend Matched to anyone looking around for a good read and who enjoys this line of fiction.

*OR DO THEY?

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Reading now: A Higher Call by Adam Makos

 TBR:
1. Crossed by Ally Condie
2. Multiply by Francis Chan
3. Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
4. Four Blood Moons by John Hagee
5. Insurgent by Veronica Roth



Friday, January 24, 2014

The Lightning Thief


I'm on a kick lately of reading some of the popular YA fiction out there, as you can tell from my most recent posts.  As a teacher, this is advantageous because I know what the kids are filling their heads with, and I am also able to make good recommendations to kids who can't find anything to read.  However, let's be honest...it's really just an excuse to read more books.  Truth be told, I enjoy YA fiction, and I love that it's part of my job to read it! 

This week I finished a book I've been wanting to read for a while, Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book One: The Lightning Thief.  Percy is pretty popular with my students these days, and I have seen the movie, so I have been anxious to read the stories and find out what all the hype is about.  What I found was a really interesting take on ancient stories and way to make kids interested in classic literature. 

The Lightning Thief centers around Percy Jackson, a troubled kid from new York that never quite fits in anywhere.  He has ADHD and is dyslexic, and for some reason, disaster just seems to follow him wherever he goes.  One minute he's minding his own business, and the next minute he's being attacked by a giant monster in the middle of a museum.  What's a boy to do?  As it turns out, there's much for him to do, for Percy is none other than Perseus, son of Poseidon the ancient Greek god of the sea, a half-blood of both mortal and immortal stock.  The revelation in Percy's life brings him to Half-Blood Hill where there is a camp for others like him, children of the gods who have hooked up with mortals.  At camp Percy learns that he is actually the center of attention of a war brewing between his father and uncles, and he must go on a quest in an effort to save civilization from mass destruction.  Oh, and maybe save his mom along the way.

Rick Riordan started writing this book based off of stories he told his second-grade son, another student who struggled in school due to ADHD and dyslexia.  As middle school literature teacher, he knew the stories of the Greek myths, and he started creating stories about a boy named Percy who turns out to be the modern-day son of Poseidon.  His son asked him to write down his stories about Percy traveling across America to find Zeus's lightning bolt, and the Percy Jackson series was born.  

Riordan obviously knows his Greek mythology in and out, and he does a masterful job of weaving the old tales into new adventures for today's audience.  It was fun to read the stories and make the connections between the modern-day versions of the monsters and the ancient stories I have heard throughout my schooling. Greek mythology is a huge part of our culture whether we realize it or not.  So many modern-day books and movies make references to these ancient myths, and yet it can be so difficult to make students care about learning them - you get a lot of "this is stupid, why do we need to learn this?"  Riordan has found a way to show modern audiences the impact of these stories and hook them in to want to learn more.

The book is well-written and fast-paced with plenty of action to keep the average middle school reader enthralled...or the average 30-something reader.  Percy is a great character, a not-so-perfect teenage boy who is trying to find his place in the world.  Many readers can identify with that.  Most of these readers will NOT find out they are a half-blood son of an ancient god, but that's where fact and fantasy meet.  The themes of heroism, perseverance, and loyalty will also capture the heart of many readers.  We all have a desire in us to do something heroic.  Watching Percy learn how to be a hero strikes a chord in all of us as we look for our own opportunities for heroism. 

I will say this.  It should be pretty obvious to anyone who has read this blog that I am a Christian and that my spiritual beliefs are very important to me.  Reading about "gods and goddesses", then, did bother me, even as a fantasy idea.   They do mention God at one point and acknowledge His existence with the hint that He is something more than Zeus and his family, and that made me feel better.  I don't regret reading the book, and I plan to read the rest of the series.  I do believe it presents the opportunity to have discussions about real and not real.  I don't think we have to avoid everything that is fantasy because it contradicts what I know to be True.  Reading books like this solidifies my own beliefs even further and can lead to discussions about beliefs and truths.  No one believes in these myths any more, but they did once, and I want to acknowledge the importance of teaching at least my own children that while these are myths and not true, there are powerful spiritual forces in the world that are absolutely real and that do have control in our lives.  Thankfully, however, the real God of the universe is not selfish, petty or paranoid, and He does not use us as pawns in power games.  He doesn't have to.  If you have real power, then you don't have to be in constant fear of losing it.  These are the discussions I would like to have with readers of the book series.  Jesus walked the earth in the time when people believed these tales - what was the good news that He brought that broke the chains of belief about these mythological creatures?  What freedom that must have brought to the early Gentiles! 

So.  Anyway.  This was a good read, and I am glad to be more up on what the cool kids are reading these days.  Gotta stay hip, ya know!

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Next up: Matched by Ally Condie
TBR:
1. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
2. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
3. A Higher Call by Adam Makos
4. Multiply by Francis Chan
5. Four Blood Moons by John Hagee

Monday, January 20, 2014

I'M BACK, BABY!

Sooo...crazy month around here.  Super crazy.  Like, what-happened-to-the-last-four-weeks-of-my-life crazy.

First we bought a house.  Then we prepped a house for move-in. 
And then...we didn't get to move in due to the weather.

Then, we moved in, and promptly didn't have Internet for three weeks. 

Somewhere in there we celebrated Jesus' birthday at least five times. 

At last, we came home.  Time to get back to real life! 

Then we had a snow/ice/cold storm - the "polar vortex."  Have you ever tried to write a blog when three house-bound children are on their 17TH DAY OF WINTER VACATION?! 

Yeah...that wasn't going to work.

So then we all went back to school and work.  Routine was coming back.  All was well.

And then my mother landed herself in the ICU for a week with a walloping case of pneumonia.

See what I mean?  CRAZY!

However, life around here has settled to a dull roar, and I am anxious to re-enter the world of reading and blogging.  So fear not friends - for I am back!

I will be kicking of 2014 with the book I read while my mother was in the hospital.  If you're going to be spending a week sitting around an ICU hospital room, it is imperative to have a new book to read.  Something that can grab your attention and give you some needed distraction from the ventilator through which your mother is trying to breathe.  These books are often best chosen either 1) in the hospital gift shop or 2) on a 10pm trip to Wal-Mart.  (Target is also acceptable, but they closed at 10!)  Today's review comes from one of those 10pm trips to Wally-World.  Sometimes the best books are found that way.  

So without further adieu, I bring you...Divergent.



Post-apocalyptic books are very in right now.  Call it The Hunger Games effect or whatever.  I'm not knocking The Hunger Games - they were pretty good books.  I almost said excellent but...I downgraded it to pretty good.  They are good, fun, fast reads that give you lots to think about and foster enjoyment of reading in young readers.  That's a win-win-win. 

A whole genre of what-if dystopian novels have sprung up since then, and like all genres, some of them are great, and some of them are not so great.  I am happy to say that Divergent falls firmly into the great category.  To be honest, I thought it was a better book than THG!

Divergent tells the story of Beatrice, a sixteen-year old girl living in what used to be the city of Chicago in a society that had decided to eliminate conflict by dividing everyone into five factions according to their natural aptitude and inclinations.  Beatrice soon finds out that she is Divergent, meaning she doesn't fall into any specific category.  She is warned several times to keep this a secret because her society views divergence as a dangerous anomaly that must be eliminated.  She hides her true self and joins Dauntless, a faction devoted to being brave and, quite often, brazenly risky.  From there Beatrice, or Tris as she becomes known, begins to learn what it means to be Divergent, and she discovers that behind her seemingly smooth-running society lies a myriad of secrets and plots that she and others like her must uncover and fight back if they are  going to survive. 

Like THG, the plot is written in present-tense, which gives the novel a breathless, up-to-the minute feel.  These are not Beatrice's memoirs.  You experience her life as she experiences, one death-defying moment at a time.  It's well written and moves right along, and at some point comes that all-night stride when you stay up till 1am because you just HAVE TO FINISH THIS BOOK AND FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS RIGHT NOW.

I love those moments.

Beatrice is a great heroine.  It is wonderful to read a novel with such a strong female lead.  She is uncertain and vulnerable, and yet there is a steel and a hardness to her that tells the reader that she's not going to be beaten down.  It's quite easy to root for Beatrice - as a woman, it's easy to identify with her, and she will appeal to young teenage girls who are also looking for their place in the world, even if it's not so starkly defined as in Beatrice's world. 

The book also raises good thought-provoking questions.  Would a world like this work?  What are the pros and cons of each faction?  What does it really mean to be brave?  Is bravery the absence of fear or simply the overcoming of it?  Can anyone be truly and completely selfless?  And ultimately - don't we divide ourselves into similar groups today?  We might not define it by law, but how do we treat people that are "divergent" from our own norms? 

As a teacher, I can see a plethora of ways to use this book in a reading class to start open-ended discussions and trigger new ways of thinking in students.  As a sci-fi fan, I enjoyed the story.  As a reader, it's intriguing to stay in the story and find out what happens to the characters.  As a woman, it's fun to cheer for Beatrice as she takes on the world.  As a member of the human race, it's interesting to read and consider what could be, what might be, and what is. 

And finally...there's a love interest.  A really, really good love interest.  None of this "team whoever" crap.  Love triangles are annoying.  Beatrice and her guy are not perfect...but they are a lovely addition to the storyline.

Overall, Divergent is a fun ride.  Head to Wal-Mart for a 10pm trip and pick yourself up a copy - quick, before the movie comes out!

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
What I'm Reading Now:
1. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
2. Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples by Francis Chan
3. A Higher Call by Adam Makos and and Larry Alexander
4. Four Blood Moons by John Hagee
5. Insurgent by Veronica Roth...oh yeah, did I mention it's a trilogy?!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Land of Stories

What if the fairy tales you grew up hearing were, in fact, simply the history of another world?  What if you favorite characters like Snow White and Cinderella were real flesh-and-blood people?  What if all the fantasies you know and love were actually real?

And what if you could hop between your world and theirs and visit them?

This is the delightful premise of Chris Colfer's The Land of Stories.  Alex and Conner Bailey, twin 12 year olds who have grown up hearing fairy tales read to them from their grandmother's book of stories.  Upon their 12th birthday, their grandmother gives them the book as a gift, and Alex makes a startling discovery:  the book can become a magical portal to another world.  A world where fairy tales are real, with princesses and evil queens and wolves that speak.  After they accidently fall into that world, they must go on a quest to gather the items necessary to make their way home.  Along the way, they discover that not all is what it seems, and there are secrets to be uncovered everywhere they go. 

This book was recommended at an education conference I attended, and the premise intrigued me, so when it came up on my daughter's book order for a few dollars, I grabbed it.  I am so glad I did.  The book is fun, fast-paced, and opens up some interesting perspectives on well-worn stories.  Colfer's take on the way things could be is enjoyably refreshing.  The language itself is nothing startling, and by about 2/3 of the way through it, I started successfully guessing what was going to happen next.  None of that kept me from dropping everything for an evening to try and finish the book (after all, I had to figure out if I was right or not!).  The idea of fairy tales being real is not a new one, and neither is the concept of characters having different back stories than originally intended.  However, Colfer paints an interesting picture with his take on the tales, and it's worth reading the book to see where he takes the characters.

One fascinating - and controversial - topic addressed in the book is the idea of motives.  The Evil Queen from Snow White is given a history that explains why she did what she did.    Some have felt that by giving her a history, it is excusing the fact that she tried to kill Snow White multiple times.  As I read the book, I did see the author excusing the behavior, but merely explaining it.  I also think it gave the read something to ponder about news stories they read or gossip they hear - there is always more to the story at hand, good or bad.  Understanding someone's history does not have to whitewash their behavior - but it can help one see that not everything is black and white, villains have feelings too, and situations are usually more complex than is seen on the surface. 

I also appreciated the fact that Colfer chose to relate his stories with the original fairy tales.  He does not mention the sanitized versions of stories unless it is to scoff at them - instead, he uses the old tales, such as The Little Mermaid turning into sea foam because she would not kill the prince, or the Evil Queen making four different attempts on Snow White's life.  When we "clean up" these tales to make them "appropriate" for children, we lose the message of the original story as well as pieces of the culture from which it came.  Colfer's choice to stay as true to the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson is one I was glad he made. 

I plan to use this book soon with my students to talk about point of view and compare/contrast, so it has value on an educational level.  It is also valuable for the pure enjoyment of it.  Read The Land of Stories and travel to the place and time of the fairly tales of your childhood.  It's a ride that is worth your time.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
What I'm Reading Now: Becoming Myself by Stasi Eldredge

Top 5 TBR:
1.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
2.
Shooting Victoria by Paul Thomas Murphy
3.
A Prophetic Calendar by Jill Shannon
4.
Forgotten God by Francis Chan
5.
The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordian

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Moon Over Manifest

Recently I received a box of books in my classroom through a program my school participated in involving Sunny D labels.  The end result was me with 20 new books for my classroom library - who-hoo!  It was like Christmas in October!  And of course the most fun part was that I now had all these new books to read!  I like to read as many of the books in my classroom as possible so I can recommend them to the right students.  I haven't read every book on my shelves, but I have read most of them.  I want my love of reading to spill over and splash my students, and I hope that in the years to come I can perfect the task of recommending books to students in a way that gets them excited about reading.  There is such a vast world out there to experience through reading, it truly is extraordinary. 

This is why I am now on my third review in a row that is on a book considered to be young adult fiction - and as much as I loved The False Prince, today's book has surpassed it.  It is one of the best stories I have read in a long time.  It was the 2011 Newberry Award Winner, and I cannot imagine the competition was that close with any other book.  It's that good.

Moon Over Manifest is the story of Abilene Tucker, a 12 year old girl from the 1930s who has been sent to her father's hometown of Manifest, Kansas to stay while he works on the railroad.  She is used to moving around and living on the road, and she lives every day with the expectation that her father is going to come get her.  In the meantime, she stumbles across a box full of mementos and some mysterious letters, and through these items along with the help of some of the townspeople she meets, she begins to uncover the story of Jinx, a boy similar to herself in his life situation who was in the town two decade before.  As their life stories overlap and intertwine with one another, Abilene begins to see the town, the people, and her own life in a different light.  There is much to learn about Manifest, and as she uncovers truths that have been buried for many years, the town's sign begins to weigh with a much heavier meaning: "Manifest...A Town With a Past."

This is a magnificent story.  It has it all.  Well, not much romance, I suppose.  But it has everything else.  It is the kind of story I absolutely love.  The author puts several lures out there to hook you right from that beginning.  Everything mentioned has significant meaning, and you don't understand how it all relates until the very last page.  The author does not leave out a single detail, and the story that unfolds is like an onion, unfolding layer after layer, until you are so overwhelmed with "a-ha!" moments that by the time you finish the book, you're exhausted.  I LOVE THAT!  This is the kind of book you can't put down.  It's a walk-through-the-halls-reading-and-try-not-to-bump-into-walls kind of book.  It's a be-careful-and-don't-burn-the-dinner-because-you-are-reading-while-you-cook kind of book.  And it's definitely the kind of book that, upon finishing, you will start over and read again, because NOW everything is much more significant than the first time. 

This book also holds a specific meaning for me because although the author names the town in the book Manifest, she states in the author's note that the book is really about the town of Frontenac, Kansas, which is a town just a few miles from where I live.  It's not just a fantastic story.  It's also the story of Southeast Kansas around the turn of the century.  It's the story of my own immigrant ancestors and how they came here for a better life.  It's about the control of the coal mines and the hold that they had over this area - and to some degree the hold they still have today, judging by what the mines did to the land and how they defined the people.  Many will read this book and see a great historical fiction story.  I read this book with personal pride knowing that the people on whom the characters are based are my people from almost 100 years ago.  The story of Manifest is the story of Southeast Kansas, and I am proud of my ancestors and who they were and who they became. 

In short: READ THIS BOOK. 

Rating: 10 out of 5 stars!
What I'm Reading Now: Becoming Myself by Stasi Eldredge

Top 5 TBR:
1.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
2.
Shooting Victoria by Paul Thomas Murphy
3.
A Prophetic Calendar by Jill Shannon
4.
Forgotten God by Francis Chan
5.
The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordian

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The False Prince

I am bleary-eyed this morning, and it's been a while since I felt this way because I stayed up all night to finish a book...but what a book!!  I finished it in about 48 hours - could not put it down!  And on top of all that - it's not even an adult book!  It's for teens and young adults! 

The False Prince tells the story of Sage, an orphan boy in a fictitious medieval-age world who is bought from the orphanage by a mysterious, powerful stranger.  Three other boys are also chosen, and these four are pitted against one another in a contest to see which one of them can pull off their new master's plan: pretend to be the long-lost prince of Carthya in order to stave off a civil war. 

It's kind of like a cross between The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones.  Except for a younger audience, so it's not quite so gory.

Anyway, as the story wears on - told from Sage's point of view - twists and turns appear throughout the story, and you find yourself breathlessly turning the pages, waiting to see what happens next.  And just when you think you have it all figured out, there is a HUGE surprise awaiting everyone involved that turns everything in the far off land of Carthya upside down.  Nothing is quite as it seems...

This book is fast paced, well-written, and captivating.  I would recommend it to readers about 6th grade and up in a heartbeat.  I don't remember the last book I read that kept me up till 1:00 am to find out the ending.  This was worth every moment of fatigue.

As a side note, this would also be an excellent read-aloud book for middle school teachers.  There is so much you could do with inferences, point of view, and making predictions.  You could even read it through twice - once from one perspective, then a second time from another, knowing the ending.  It would also captivate a wide audience - boys as well as girls will love it. 

This is short and sweet because I don't want to give too much away.  Sufficient to say, this book is a quick read that is worth your time.  Set aside 48 hours and read it.  You won't regret it.

Whew!  I need a nap...

5 out of 5 stars.  Hands down.

What I'm Reading Now: Becoming Myself by Stasi Eldredge

Top 5 TBR:
1.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
2.
Shooting Victoria by Paul Thomas Murphy
3.
A Prophetic Calendar by Jill Shannon
4.
Forgotten God by Francis Chan
5.
The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordian

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Countdown

“There are always scary things happening in the world. There are always wonderful things happening. And it's up to you to decide how you're going to approach the world...how you're going to live in it, and what you're going to do."—Jo Ellen Chapman, Countdown

Sorry I've been a little lax, folks - we are moving!  The house is completely torn apart, and we are living out of two residences at the moment.  Kinda crazy at home, and when the new basement flooded last week, that pretty much took priority over everything.  Including this blog.  But I'm back on this week, and I have a new book to share!

Every generation has those moments from their childhood which seem to stand still because of the gravity of what was going on in the world.  Kennedy's assassination, the Berlin Wall coming down, the Challenger explosion - these are all moments in time that seem to freeze everything and spill over into our lives in frightening ways that are hard for a child to understand.  Parents would love to shield their children from these moments, but they are so huge that no one can hide from them. 

For me, the first time I remember really feeling that way was the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995  I was in 7th grade, and I remember coming home from school that day, the world being all about me and my 13 year old drama, and flopping down on the couch complaining to Mom about this kid and that teacher and how the world was just so unfair.  Mom nodded and made all the right murmurs, but she wasn't paying a lot of attention.  When I got to the end of my rant, I said "so what did you do today?"  And Mom pointed at the TV screen and said, "just watching this, really."  I turned around to see the Alfred P. Murrah building blown half off, bloodied faces being interviewed, and a massive manhunt for the men they believed to be responsible.  I watched for hours that night as the search for survivors continued.  I remember seeing the toll number on screen for kids in Oklahoma City to call if their parents hadn't made it home yet.  For the first time, I felt unsafe in the world.  This was an evil that couldn't be made ok with a hugs and kisses from Mom and Dad.  Something had changed in the world, and my little teenage universe was no longer about me, but about things far beyond my grasp and control.

Countdown by Deborah Wiles is a new kind of novel about another such time in 20th century American history - the Cuban Missile Crisis.  It follows the story of Franny, an eleven year old girl growing up in the shadow of the Cold War in the 1960s.  Franny, her mother, Air Force pilot father, older sister Jo Ellen, younger brother Drew, and World War I veteran uncle live near Andrews Air Force Base in the era of the Kennedys, duck and cover, rock and roll music, and the civil rights movement of the sixties.  Like most eleven year old girls, Franny's world is very much about her own trials and tribulations, such as her best friend suddenly turning on her and a cute boy moving in across the street.  Her parents don't seem to see her or understand her, and nothing feels quite right or fair.  She knows about the nuclear threat from Russia, and she thinks if she can just get a letter to Chairman Khrushchev and explain things, she could put an end to the growing fear that has become a part of their everyday life.  Right in the midst of all this pre-teen angst, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 develops, and life in Camp Springs, Maryland seems to come to a standstill as the world holds its breath, waiting to see if they will wake up tomorrow to a nuclear holocaust.  Franny has to find her way in the world and begin to come to terms with how scary life can be but, in contrast, how much having your family around you to love and be loved by can make a difference in deciding how, as her sister Jo Ellen puts it, she is going to approach the world.

First, the historical perspective.  I love historical novels, and this is no exception.  However, this novel add a new dynamic to the classic historical novel.  It is what the author calls a "documentary novel."  Throughout the book, interspersed through the pages, are slices of life from 1960s America.  Pieces of speeches by presidents and civil right movement leaders are printed in large print.  Song lyrics are randomly interwoven with Cold War propaganda posters.  Occasionally there is a biographical mini report on someone who shaped that era, such as President and Mrs. Kennedy.  Throughout the narrative, there seems to be a soundtrack of a civil defense filmstrip, telling kids what to do in case of a nuclear attack.  (Because, after all, a nuclear blast can destroy everything within hundreds of miles, but if you duck and cover your head you should be fine, right?)  It's as if this soundtrack is playing in the back of Franny's mind all day, all the time, no matter what is going on around her.  As the threat of the Missile Crisis grows, so does the intensity of this soundtrack of her mind. 

The book's narrative is also written in present tense, which is absolutely perfect for this character and what's going on around her.  Eleven year olds hardly think about the past, and they certainly don't think too much about the future.  Everything is very in the NOW with them.  What's more, the pressure of the Missile Crisis had everyone living moment by moment.  America literally did not know what was going to happen next.  At any moment, bombs could start falling from the sky.  It was a very "clear and present danger" kind of time.  The present tense illustrates that tension beautifully. 

The book is well written and manages to capture both the struggles of Franny in her life and the struggles of the global crisis around her, balancing between the two and even drawing parallels.  Her relationship with her best-friend-turned-enemy, Margie Gardener, heats up in the exact timing of the Missile Crisis, and the reader sees two people who just can't seem to communicate well at the same time they see two countries that couldn't manage to get their relationship happy either.  October 27, 1962, the Crisis reached a climax when Major Rudolf Anderson was shot down and killed over Cuba.  This is day Wiles chose for Franny to have her climactic moment in the book, her damaged friendship with Margie coming to a head, with dramatic and tragic results.  The two crises are felt keenly by the reader, and as a result, you wind up in the head and heart of Franny as she struggles to sort it all out and find her place in her family, neighborhood, and world. 

In the end, it's a book about love, family, friendship, and choosing how you will enter the world.  It's a book about the personal struggles we face every day as well as the global threats around us that affect us more than we know.  It takes us back to a time and place where childhood was idyllic and terrifying all at the same time.  It captures the mood of a nation and the mood of a little girl in 20th century America, just trying to be seen and understood by those around her. 

It's a delightful book.  I enjoyed both as an adult reader and as a teacher looking for books to recommend to young readers.  This would be a great book to recommend to readers about 5th grade and up.  Wiles has two other companion novels coming about life in the 1960s, and I can't wait to read those as well and she where she takes some of these characters.  This is a great series either for teaching history or just for reading for enjoyment.  Check it out and travel back to experience life in the 1960s - you won't regret the trip.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
What I'm Reading Now: Becoming Myself by Stasi Eldredge

Top 5 TBR:
1. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
2. Shooting Victoria by Paul Thomas Murphy
3. A Prophetic Calendar by Jill Shannon
4. Forgotten God by Francis Chan
5. The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordian