Every night, after she’s read a couple of chapters of Nancy Drew, Franny closes her eyes and drafts a letter to Chairman Khrushchev, asking him to come to an understanding of things and not blow up America. But she can never get the wording quite right. In fact, she can’t seem to get anything quite right. She can’t duck and cover correctly during the school air raid drills, she can’t stop her eccentric uncle from digging up the front lawn to make a bomb shelter, she can’t figure out the mystery of her college freshman sister’s weeklong disappearance, and she is escalating a cold war with her former best friend Margie, with implications that will proliferate the entire neighborhood.
In Deborah Wiles’ documentary novel, the first of a planned Sixties Trilogy, the great and small dramas of Franny’s life are interwoven with a text-and-image collage of the pop singles, presidential television addresses, children’s books, and photojournalism of the historic moments of 1962. Underlying everything is the doomsday promise that was the Cuban Missile Crisis; Franny’s whole world is just one blinding flash away from total annihilation.
The mash-ups of primary source photos, historical notes, and pop culture ephemera that serve as interludes to the novel’s narrative are by turns clever, informative, ironic, and portentous, and give great context to the story. However, much like last year’s Newbery winner When You Reach Me won readers over as much with its realistic 6th grade social drama as with its time travel mystery, Franny’s day-to-day school and family concerns are just as engaging as the high concept collage aspect of the text.
And speaking of the Newbery, this book is a worthy contender for that prize in 2011. Giving a vivid picture of childhood in early 1960s, yet describing family and social situations still highly applicable to children today, this book is worth the attention of any young person or teacher of young people.
Review by Josh Whiting, Granite School District Library Media Department
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Interest Level: Grades 5+
Countdown (The Sixties Trilogy, Book 1)
Written by Deborah Wiles
Release Date: May 1, 2010