Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Heavens to Murgatroyd! '60s Novel is Quite A Ride.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

For thirteen terrifying days in 1962, Americans lived in abject fear of the unknown. Glued to their newspapers, televisions and radios, they waited with bated breath. Would today be the day the U.S.S.R dropped its bombs? Would the U.S.A. still be here tomorrow? What did the future hold - World War III? Total annihilation? Days, months, or years of eking out an existence in underground bomb shelters? As they hoped and prayed for President John F. Kennedy and Russia's First Secretary of the Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev, to settle the issue peacefully, they waited. And watched the skies.

With everyone's focus on the crisis in Cuba, 11-year-old Franny Chapman is feeling downright invisible. No one seems to notice that her best friend is acting strangely, the cute boy next door might actually like her, and her eccentric uncle's getting crazier by the second. Franny can't talk to her father, a pilot in the Air Force who's constantly on the go; or to her mother, whose melancholy makes her nearly unapproachable; or to her older sister, whose mysterious secret keeps her away from home more often than not. Normally, Franny would confide in her closest pal, Margie, but there are some things you can't even tell your best friend. Not that Margie's interested in listening anymore - she has more popular girls to impress. That leaves Franny to work things out for herself.

It's a terrifying time to be invisible, especially when you're a kid who lives within throwing distance of the nation's capitol. Even with all the ducking and covering practice she's done at school, Franny's not sure she's really ready for a bombing. She acts strong for her younger brother, but she's just as scared as everyone else. It doesn't help that her personal life is in such a mess either. How is she going to fix it all and watch out for bombs at the same time? When did her life become such a complicated mess? And what's she going to do about it? What do Margie's snide little comments really matter, anyway, when the world's about to be blown to bits?

Countdown by Deborah Wiles is a documentary novel based on the author's recollections of living through the incident now known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The book, which features a scrapbook-style format interspersing Franny's story with photographs, quotations, advertisements, newspaper clippings, etc. from the period, is the first in a planned trilogy about the '60s. The turbulence of the time makes for an intense, but fascinating background, as Franny comes of age in one of the most chaotic eras of America's history. Painstakingly detailed, the book brings it all to life in brilliant, almost psychedelic color. Although it unfolds slowly, the story builds momentum as it goes, resulting in a strong, compelling tale about a young girl trying to sort herself out in a time when confusion reigns all around her. Whether you lived through the '60s or not, you'll find yourself in this unique historical novel. And Heavens to Murgatroyd! It's quite a ride.

(Readalikes: Hm, I don't know. Any ideas?)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for intense scenes and vague references to puberty/the female body

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

5 comments:

  1. I loved this book! And have been saying "Heavens to Murgatroyed" ever since. My husband loves it. Ha!

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  2. I'm going to place a request for this book right now. Sounds like my life story, 11 years old during the Cuban Missile Crisis ducking under my desk and finding it hard to sleep at night. Truly terrifying!

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  3. I really enjoyed this one. I think one of the remarkable things about it is that it doesn't have a read-alike. Very original.

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  4. I really liked this book too. I brought to work and we ended up having some good discussions about Cuban missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs. It would make a good book club book.

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  5. Jeanette - LOL! I love that line and the book was fabulous.

    Laurel - I returned it yesterday, so you should be getting it soon :)

    Shelley - Excellent point. There really isn't anything like it. I can't even think of another MG book about the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    Laura H - You're right - it would make an excellent book club book. Lots to discuss.

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