Author: Deborah Wiles
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication Date: May 1, 2010
AR Levels: Interest Level: 4th-8th, Book Level: 4.4, Points: 9.0
Goodreads Link: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7192385-countdown
In a nutshell: The 1960s were a volatile time in American history, and many a writer has attempted to capture the wonder and terror of that decade. Deborah Wiles has bottled that wonder and terror in this novel that beautifully blends actual history with fiction. Based loosely on her own life in Maryland during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Wiles' main character 12-year-old Franny Chapman has a perfect younger brother and a perfect (albeit somewhat secretive) older sister, and she just can't seem to measure up. Add in a crush on a cute boy next door, a "crazy" uncle suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a disloyal best friend, a military father whose stressful job is keeping him away from home, a demanding/stressed out mother, and a country terrified of nuclear war, and Franny just can't seem to make sense of much of anything, but Franny will find out that when fear begins to overtake you, it's not always enough to duck and cover; sometimes you have to stand up and be brave, and you'll find yourself along the way.
I'd recommend it for grades: 5 to 8
I'd recommend it to: historical fiction lovers, middle siblings, and anyone who's ever been afraid of the world around them...and American history teachers! It's rare to find a children's lit book about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Take advantage of it!
What I liked most about this book: Franny Chapman is adorable yet discerning in a very Scout Finch sort of way, and that's a very good thing. She's a narrator you root for from the very beginning, and seeing the world through her eyes completely draws you in to what it must have felt like to be a girl who's dying to grow up faster but still scared of the world around her. I love her, and I hope the next two books keep her as the narrative voice. Wiles has said this will be a trilogy about the 60s, and I believe the next book centers around Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi (my stompin' grounds!).
Single favorite moment (without getting spoiler-y): I have lots of single favorite moments, so it's too hard to choose, but some of my favorite parts are the actual historical pieces interspersed in the book. Wiles spins real speeches, biographies, advertisements, photographs, news stories, quotes, and more into the story effortlessly blending fact and fiction. It's so seamless that you feel like you're getting sucked into the 60s in a time warp.
Star rating (where 5 stars is awesome and 0 stars is atrocious): a well-deserved 5 stars...equally entertaining and suspenseful (and educational!)
*Side Note: I haven't listened to it, but I'm sure the audiobook of this is incredible because I heard that it uses real footage during the historical parts. I may check it out sometime and update you later.