Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Countdown by Deborah Wiles

In 1962 the Cuban missile crisis scared the begeebees out of every American.  What was it like to be a child back then? That is the question Wiles endeavors to answer in this  historical fiction/documentary.  Franny Chapman's father is a military pilot stationed in Virginia.  Franny's sister is just starting college and her little brother wants to be an astronaut.  Franny's uncle has serious PTS from WWII and is a source of extreme embarrassment to Franny when he starts to dig a bomb shelter in her front yard.  Then on October 16th J F Kennedy makes his historic announcement that Cuba has nuclear missiles pointed at the US.  All her other problems pale as she contemplates the possibility that she won't live to see her next Halloween. Between chapters of the story, Wiles inserts historical facts and culture bits reflecting the mood of the 60's.  There is a lot about how children were taught to duck and cover if there were a bombing.  There are also fairly long excerpts from Kennedy's speeches, and extended biographies of prominent historical figures of the time period.  It was all well written and tightly woven together.  It brought  back memories from my early childhood in the 60's.  Yet, with all that, I didn't like the book.  I have been trying to figure out why and I think I have it.  The tension never lets up.  It just builds and builds and the reader gets emotionally tired.  I think Wiles was trying to recreate the tension everyone felt during the crisis, but who wants to relive a crisis? Wiles needs to take a lesson from Shakespeare.  He always follows his most emotionally intense scenes with a bit a comic relief.  That is what this book needed.  It needed a bit of comic relief. That is just my opinion.  Two of my librarian friends at work loved it, and another couldn't get through it, so it was an even split.(377 p)

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