Sunday, July 24, 2016

Stones On A Grave by Kathy Kacer

Stones On A Grave is part of a series of seven books authored by various Canadian writers for young teens. The series, known as the Secrets, can be read in any order. An orphanage, known as The Benevolent Home For Necessitous Girls burns to the ground in June of 1964, leaving all its residents homeless. The younger girls are sent to various families, but the seven oldest girls, Dot, Malou, Sara, Tess, Cady, Toni and Betty are each given information about their past and told they must now make their own way in the world. Their stories are the basis for the seven novels in the series.

Stones On A Grave tells Sara's story. It begins the night of the terrible fire at the orphanage in the town of Hope. Sarah and the rest of the girls who live there make it safely out of the fire. Sara manages to grab her tin box holding her savings. Their matron, Mrs. Hazelton and their teacher, Miss Webster also make it out. The girls are taken to the church where they are told by Miss Webster that because the fire has totally destroyed the orphanage, no one will be able to return and that plans are being made to help each of the girls. The girls spend the night sleeping on the pews of the town church.

The next morning Sara, who is the oldest of the girls at eighteen, decides to go to her job at Loretta's, a diner where she's worked for the past few years. Normally Loretta's wouldn't be open on a Sunday but the owner, Mrs. Clifford has opened the restaurant to those who helped with the fire. When she sees Sara, Mrs. Clifford is shocked and tells her she can manage fine if she needs to take some time off. However Sara wants to work as it keeps her from worrying about what the future holds for her.

Sara's boyfriend Luke comes to the diner. Sara met him a few months ago when she went to the garage where he works to put air in her bicycle tires. Luke noticing her that day made Sara feel special. Mrs. Clifford doesn't like Luke however and questions him about whether he was involved in the orphanage fire. She also tells him she heard that he's been harassing Malou, one of the seven older girls at the orphanage. Luke denies this and Sara refuses to believe what Mrs. Clifford has said, but when Malou arrives at the diner, he ridicules her in front of Sara.

After work Sara goes to see Mrs. Hazelton at her cottage near the orphanage. Each of the girls has come to meet privately with her and Sara is anxious, wondering what Mrs. Hazelton will tell her. Mrs. Hazelton hands Sara two envelopes; the first contains a document from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation that lists information about her birth. Sara learns that she was born in Fohrenwald, Germany, that her mother's name is Karen Frankel and that she is Jewish. Mrs. Hazelton tells Sara that Fohrenwald was a camp for Jewish refugees who survived the Holocaust. She tells Sara that her mother was imprisoned in a concentration camp which was liberated at the end of the war. Her mother contracted tuberculosis which was passed on the Sara. The second document is a medical certificate clearing Sara for travel to Canada and was signed by Gunther Pearlman, a German doctor. Mrs. Hazelton has no information on Sara's father nor how Sara ended up coming to Canada. However, she wants to help Sara as she starts her new life and gives her an envelope containing money to help her get started.

This new information and her conversation with Mrs. Hazelton make Sara realize that in order to face her future she needs to discover her past. And to do that she needs to travel to Germany. It is a journey that will uncover her past and help her plot her course for the future.

Discussion

Stones on a Grave is a well written, high interest, easy read for those who enjoy historical fiction and mystery. The novel is set in the mid-1960's and explores the aftermath of the Holocaust on Germans and those who survived the war. When Sara arrives in Germany she finds Dr. Pearlman initially helpful until she reveals her identity and tells him about her mother. The doctor becomes angry and refuses any further help. Kacer portrays a country struggling to come to terms with what happened and determined to try to forget. The older characters, for example Dr. Pearlman and Frau Klein, who lived through the war, do not want to talk about what happened and do not wish to remember. However, Peter, who represents a new generation of Jewish Germans becomes determined to help Sara uncover her family history. Frustrated at the lack of help she is receiving from Germans, Sara wonders Peter also attempts to explain to Sara the question many people asked themselves after the war, "How could the German people not know what was going on?"

At times some of the plot twists seem contrived, such as when Hedda Kaufmann decides against the rules to help Sara and also when by amazing coincidence she knew Sara's mother. Readers will probably quickly realize the real identity of Gunther Pearlman and also how Sara's mother became pregnant. One aspect of this novel that is particularly well done is Kacer's treatment of the war crime of rape and how it can affect the family of the victim.  Sara learns from Frau Kauffman at the International Tracing Center that her father was not her mother's husband, Simon Frankel but a Nazi soldier who raped her mother in the concentration camp. When Sara first learns this fact about herself, she is very distraught. She flees the center, her mind racing with questions. "How was it that she had traveled all this way to find out about her family only to discover that her father -- her father -- was a Nazi guard? What did that even mean? Was she part Nazi? And what part had come from him? The anger? The irritation? The blue eyes? It was almost too much to imagine."  Sara believes that this is why her mother gave her up, that looking at her meant remembering the rape. Sara decides to leave Germany immediately, regretting seeking out her past.The next day while waiting for Peter, Sara tells Dr. Pearlman that she discovered the truth about her past and that her mother "...must have thought I was a monster."

When Dr. Pearlman, who is Sara's grandfather, realizes how this tragedy is affecting his granddaughter, he decides to reveal the truth to her. He tells her that in fact, while "We were all afraid to look at you, knowing where and how you were conceived" her mother gazed at her with "pure love." "Those first few days after she was hospitalized, she wouldn't let you go. She held on to you as if together you could give each other strength to heal. Even as she grew weaker and we tried to pry you from her arms she still refused to let you go..."  The realization that her mother truly loved her helps Sara come to terms with the fact that she was born from an act of violence and to begin to accept that she is NOT her father. A moving letter from Frau Kauffman about her mother, makes Sara understand that there is much of her mother in her. Like her mother she is spirited and like her mother she dreams of becoming a fashion designer. Frau Kauffman's entreaty that she take what little she knows about her mother and be inspired pushes Sara past her anger and grief towards acceptance.

"Everything was becoming clearer to her. Yes, she would carry the man who had raped her mother somewhere inside her. Every time she looked into a mirror, stared at her blue eyes, she would be reminded of her roots. But she knew now that she was not him, and never would be. She would live her life trying to prove that."

Kacer does incorporate some interesting historical facts into her story. One example is Bad Arolsen, a town in northern Germany where documents from the war have been stored in a special center. Bad Arolsen is the location of the International Tracing Service which was begun in 1946 after the war to locate missing people and reunite them with their families and to let others know the fate of their loved ones. The Nazis kept detailed records of who was sent where. The names of Jews, what concentration camp they were sent to, how and when they died, or if they survived what displaced persons camp they were sent to was recorded in an effort to reunite survivors. Its vast archives were only made available to the public in 2007.   The English website may be found at International Tracing Service.

The book takes its title Stones on a Grave from the Jewish custom of placing stones on a grave.This ancient tradition is explained by Peter as follows: "Well, flowers disappear quickly. The belief is that stones last forever, just like the memory you hold of the one who has died."

Overall Stones on a Grave is a touching story about a young woman who learns the truth about her past and her struggle to come to terms with it. Part of the Secrets series conceived by Eric Walters, this novel is a good read for younger teens. It's unfortunate the cover design, like many good Canadian novels, is unimaginative at best.

Book Details:

Stones on a Grave by Kathy Kacer
Victoria: Orca Book Publishers      2015
213 pp.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan

The Bitter Side of Sweet is a novel about the use of child labour and child trafficking in West Africa which supplies most of the world's cacao, a key ingredient in many types of confectionery. A report released last year by the Tulane University's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine determined that in 2013/14, approximately 2.26 million children were working in cacao production, 2.12 million children were working in child labor in cacao production and 2.03 million children were working in hazardous work in cacao production in Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana combined.

Fifteen year old Amadou and his eight year old brother Seydou work harvesting cacao pods in the Ivory Coast. Two years previous, they left Moke and Auntie for what they thought would be one year of work. Instead they found themselves forced to work on a cacao farm run by Moussa and his two brothers, "all day, week after week, season after season, never getting paid."  They are beaten if they don't meet their daily quota.

Then one day a girl is brought into the camp. Her appearance at the camp is bizarre to Amadou because the camp is only filled with boys and men and because she is brought in alone. The girl is wild, cursing and fighting and she attempts to escape the minute she is untied. Amadou notes that she is well fed and her skin dark and shiny.  The girl is tied to a tree while Seydou, Amadou and Moussa go about harvesting the cacao pods. Amadou becomes annoyed with Seydou who does not listen to his instructions on how to cut the cacao pods safely from the trees and he moves off to another area. However, shortly after this Amadou hears Seydou crying and discovers that the girl tricked Seydou into cutting her free and she's now run into the forest in an attempt to escape. Knowing that his little brother will be punished terribly for this, Amadou decides to take responsibility for her escape.He is dragged into the forest as Moussa tracks the girl and she is caught with the help of Amadou. When they return to the camp, Amadou is badly beaten for not making quota as is another boy, Modibo, and the girl whose name is Khadija. They are not given dinner and are locked into the toolshed. The other boys are locked into the sleeping shed. The next day, despite attempting to prove he is well enough to work on a crew Amadou is assigned to work in the camp shelling the pods. This greatly upsets him because he will not be able to watch out for his little brother.

Seydou goes out to work in the farm while Amadou and a reluctant Khadija work on the shelling of the cacao pods. To Amadou's great relief, Seydou returns home safely and has made quota. However as they are being locked into the shed that night, Khadija manages to escape again. This time she is brutally beaten. Once again, Khadija and Amadou are chained together and must work shelling cacao pods. Amadou helps Khadija but also works hard to shell the cacao pods.  However, the worst is yet to come when the crew returns that evening and Amadou learns that his brother Seydou has been seriously injured by a machete, which cut through his left arm near his hand.

Moussa tries to save Seydou's mangled arm by stitching the horrific wound together with thread and a needle but by the next morning Seydou is running a fever and his arm is infected. Amadou is sent into the fields for the day with Moussa and Khadija is made to look after Seydou. But when Amadou returns Seydou's arm is festering and  swollen and he is delirious. The next day Moussa sends Amadou into the fields telling him he will take care of Seydou. He chains Amadou and Khadija together telling Amadou that if she escapes he will kill Seydou.

In the cacao trees,  Amadou and Khadija work together. Amadou feels some sympathy for Khadija when she begins to get blisters. They know they have to make quota as the pisteurs, the drivers who collect the cacao seeds, will be coming soon. Khadija promises Amadou she will not run because she does not want any harm to come to Seydou. When they return to camp at first Amadou is heartened to see Seydou sitting up but when Seydou begins crying Amadou realizes that his arm below the elbow is missing. Horrified at what Moussa has done to Seydou, Amadou punches him in the face. He is tossed into the toolshed, still chained to Khadija. Thinking about what has happened to Seydou, Amadou realizes he will never be able to protect Seydou on the cacao farm and that they must escape. But how will they make it off a farm in the middle of the forest without being caught? Working together, Khadija and Amadou create a perfect storm that allows them to flee to safety and ultimately have their story of trafficking told.


Discussion

Cacao pods on a cacao tree.
One of the major factors that makes a successful historical fiction novel is the ability of the author to recreate the era or setting for his/her readers. The same applies to novels which are set in a country which is culturally very different from the one most readers of the novel live in. The Bitter Side of Sweet is set in the West African country of Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and from the very opening of the novel, author Tara Sullivan sets the stage for her novel. The first thing readers of this novel encounter upon opening the book is a map showing the location of Cote d'Ivoire within the African continent and a map of the Cote d'Ivoire showing the cities in the novel.

Most readers have no idea what a cacao tree looks like nor the pods that Amadou and his crew must climb for and cut from the trees. They probably don't know how the seeds from the cacao pods are made into the chocolate that we enjoy in Canada and the United States.  However readers of The Bitter Side of Sweet will learn all this and more - especially about how most of the cacao in West Africa is harvested using child slave labour and that many of these labourers are trafficked. Underage workers harvest the cacao pods, doing work that is both difficult and unsafe. Forced to work in fields, these children do not attend school, meaning their futures are compromised if they escape.

Tara Sullivan does a wonderful job portraying how difficult Amadou, Seydou and the rest of the boys' lives are working on the cacao farm. This is evident from the very first page. The receive little food, "Neither Seydou nor I have eaten anything since breakfast, but Moussa is working too close for us to be able to sneak one of the cacao pods out of the sack", the working conditions are hot and dangerous, "I take a moment to wipe the sweat off my forehead. You'd think it would be cooler up here, but some days there isn't a breeze even halfway up a tree." They are beaten if they do not harvest enough pods, "Only twenty-five pods. Our sacks need to be full, at least forty or forty-five each, so I can get Seydou out of a beating. Really full if I want to get out of one too." In such conditions it's easy to see why boys like Amadou would quickly lose hope. "I don't count unripe pods. I don't count how many times I've been hit for being under quota. I don't count how many days it's been since I've given up hope of going home." Amadou has quickly learned to give up trying to escape, in the hope that he can somehow protect his much younger brother Seydou.

When Amadou and Seydou were first taken to the cacao farm, Amadou "used to think all the time: How can I run away? What is my family doing right now? Is Moke worried about us? Are they searching? How much longer will we have to work before we pay off our debt and the bosses let us go?"  But Amadou soon realizes that thinking about home means he doesn't make quota and he will be beaten. And so he has given up on trying to escape.

When Khadija arrives on the farm, she mocks Amadou for being "such a good boy" and tells him she's determined to escape. When her two attempts fail, she seems to have lost her will. However, it is Khadija's determination to escape and her refusal to accept this as her life combined with Seydou's serious injury, that leads Amadou to realize that they must either die trying to leave the cacao farm or spend a lifetime enslaved."I've been trying to take care of Seydou in little ways for years, and clearly, today showed that it's not enough. Now it's time to take care of him in a big way. Because when I really think about it, Khadija was right all along. Living here is nothing more than killing Seydou slowly." 

As it turns out, Khadija's presence in the cacao farm is not by chance. Unlike Amadou she was not tricked into working on the farm but was kidnapped so as to force her mother from publishing an article on the illegal methods being used to farm cacao.  Later on in the novel, when Amadou, Seydou and Khadija return to Khadija's home, the author uses Khadija's mother to explain present some of the facts about cacao farming in West Africa within the context of the story. The situation is further explained in her Author's Note at the back of the book. Readers will learn that the luxury of chocolate bars we enjoy in Canada and America come at a high price - the lives of children in West Africa.

Those children are represented by the characters of Amadou, Khadija and Seydou. These are beautifully crafted characters, exhibiting courage, perseverance and compassion. Amadou shows compassion for Khadija when she is brutally beaten after her second escape attempt. "She's no one to you, why do you care? I try to tell myself, but the words are a lie...Then I hear a rustling as she pulls herself back together and a soft, broken sobbing, and all I can think about is how terrible it is to be alone when you're hurting." Amadou comforts Khadija and the next day helps her clean up, wiping her face and hands and giving her water to drink.

As the older brother, Amadou feels responsible for Seydou, but Seydou also takes care of Amadou when he receives a beating after taking the blame for Seydou when Khadija attempts to escape. He sneaks mangoes into the bag of cacao pods so his brother will have something to eat during the day besides the cacao seeds. Khadija undergoes a transformation during her time on the cacao farm. At first she is concerned only for her own fate, but soon comes to see that her actions have consequences on the other workers.

The Bitter Side of Sweet is a well written novel that will educate and awaken the social conscience of young people to the dark side of a treat taken for granted in Canada, the United States and Europe. Like Amadou and Seydou in the novel, most cacao farmers and child workers have no idea that cacao seeds are used to make chocolate for consumption by people in these countries. Despite the terrible experiences that Amadou, Seydou and Khadija have lived through, the novel ends on a hopeful tone. The exciting conclusion demonstrates the risks some have taken to get the truth about cacao known to the rest of the world.

Despite widespread publicity about the trafficking of children and the use of slave labour on cacao farms in Africa little has changed. The Dark Side of Chocolate, a National Geographic documentary is worth watching.







For further information on the use of child labor in the cacao industry in West Africa, readers are directed to the website of Tulane University's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. The school undertook a research project to determine the extent of the problem specifically in Cote de I'voire and Ghana.

Book Details:

The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan
New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons Ltd.    2016
299 pp.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Boy At The Top Of The Mountain by John Boyne

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain is a heart-rending story of lost innocence in the face of terrible evil. It is the story of one boy's corruption at the hands of a powerful ideology that brought ruin to the Europe over seventy years ago.

Pierrot Fischer lived in an apartment with his German father, Wilhelm, a survivor and soldier of World War I and his French mother Emelie. Their family was together until Pierrot's father left in 1933 a few months after Pierrot's fourth birthday.

When Pierrot was very young his father taught him to speak German and would often carry him on his shoulders while pretending to be a horse. His father was very musical often entertaining people with folk songs. Pierrot was also able to speak French which he learned from his mother. Pierrot's father suffered from terrible nightmares which caused him to wake screaming in the night. He drank a great deal to help him forget what he experienced during the First World War.

Pierrot was best friends with a Jewish boy Anshel Bronstein who lived on the ground floor apartment of their building on Avenue Charles-Floquet.The two boys were born within weeks of one another. Anshel was deaf so the two boys developed a sign language that allowed them to communicate.

His father worked as a waiter for M. and Mme Abrahams in their restaurant and complained frequently about the poor tips from Parisians and how badly the Abrahams treat him. But he specifically blamed Jewish patrons, accusing them of being greedy. When Pierrot reminded his father that his best friend Anshel is Jewish, his papa told him that "Anshel is one of the good ones..."

Pierrot's mother and father begin to quarrel as his drinking becomes a serious problem. Shortly after his fourth birthday, Pierrot's father loses control, smashing the dishes and beating his mother unconscious. His father leaves the family and weeks later they learned that he died after falling beneath a train travelling from Munich to Penzberg, Germany.  Pierrot's maman goes to work for the Abrahams as a waitress and for the next three years their life is simple and happy. Until 1936.

In 1936, Pierrot's mother coughs up blood into a handkerchief on her birthday and days later a coughing spell brings up more blood. Emelie is taken to Hotel-Dieu de Paris hospital where she dies shortly after. Orphaned, Pierrot is sent to an orphanage by Mme Bronstein who wants to care for him but does not have the money to do so. She sends him to an orphanage in the city of Orleans that is run by sisters Adele and Simone Durand.  Pierrot must leave behind his beloved dog, D'Artagnan whose care he entrusts to Anshel.

Seven-year-old Pierrot is welcomed into the orphanage by the kindly sisters who tell him his stay will probably not be long as most children are placed with families. Pierrot has trouble making friends and is bullied by one boy in particular. Hugo had lived at the orphanage his entire eleven years. Pierrot never would admit that Hugo was the one bullying him. When a serious fight occurs between Pierrot and Hugo, the true identity of the bully is revealed by the Durand sisters. Pierrot does make friends with a girl named Josette and they their spend time walking around the grounds of the orphanage.

Eventually Pierrot leaves the orphanage and travels to Germany, having been taken in by his father's sister, his Aunt Beatrix. It turns out that Beatrix is the housekeeper for Adolf Hitler who has taken over the Berghof, a large mansion located at in the Obersalzburg of the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany. She has been in her position for a little over two years. In the morning of the first day at the Berghof Pierrot meets Herta Theissen the second most senior maid, Emma who is the cook, Ute the senior maid and Ernst the chauffeur. Pierrot doesn't know who the master and mistress of the house are until Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun arrive. Desperate to belong and trying to make sense of his place in a world upended by war,; Pierrot develops a close relationship with Adolf Hitler who proceeds to draw the young boy into the Nazi world. As he becomes a spectator to Hitler's inner world and discovers the true nature of Beatrix and Ernst's activities, Pierrot must decide where his loyalties lie. It is a choice that will forever change his life.

Discussion
The Boy at the Top of the Mountain is a tragic novel which portrays the gradual corruption of an innocent child by Nazi ideology. The novel's main character, Pierrot matures from a seven year old child into a young man of sixteen over the course of the story. His journey mirrors that of millions of young German children who grew up during the Nazi era and who were indoctrinated with ideas about racial purity, a global Jewish conspiracy and Germany's defeat in World War I. Although everyone experiences a natural loss of innocence that occurs during the transition from childhood into young adult years, Pierrot's transition is from a boy who hates cruelty to others and even animals to a young adult who is ready to sacrifice even those dear to him for power and affirmation. His entire belief system is turned upside down.

In the novel, Pierrot undergoes a gradual but steady transformation from an innocent, kind young boy to a staunch Nazi who believes he is superior and who craves power and control. His first day at the Berghof finds Pierrot overwhelmed, timid and willing to do what he's told. " 'Hello?' he said quietly, nervous of drawing too much attention to himself but hoping that someone would hear." He finds the air fresh and light, "filling his lungs and his spirit with an enormous sense of well-being." Beatrix reaffirms what Pierrot feels when she tells him that although the orphanage was good, it is better for him to be with family. "...But it's family that matters. And you and I are family. The only family that either one of us has left. We must never let each other down." This warning foreshadows the cruel way in which Pierrot will betray Beatrix's trust.

Before his relationship with Adolf Hitler, Pierrot had certain views of the world around him. Prior to going to the orphanage, his best friend was a Jewish boy, Anshel Bronstein. This doesn't matter at all to Pierrot, who trusts Anshel enough to leave his beloved dog, D'Artagnan in his care. Pierrot finds Ernst's warning about never mentioning Anshel's name at the Berghof upsetting because he doesn't understand yet how Germans view Jews. And later on when Beatrix discovers Pierrot is receiving letters from a boy named Anshel she tells him, "I know it must see strange...But letters from this...this Anshel boy could get you into more trouble than you realize...A letter from a Jewish boy would not go down well here." When he arrives at the Berghof, Pierrot identifies himself as French and not German because his mother was French, he has a French name and he considers Paris his home. However, his Aunt Beatrix tells him he is German because his father was German, that he must change his name to the German form which is Pieter and that the Berghof is his home now. It is possible that Beatrix's requests, although undertaken for what she considers Pierrot's safety, leave him with an identity crisis and therefore more open to accepting the Nazi ideology.

Initially Pierrot is a helpful child, doing what Beatrix asks of him. Watching Emma butcher a chicken makes him upset because Pierrot doesn't "like the idea of cruelty. From as far back as he could recall he had hated any sort of violence and instinctively walked away from confrontation...he could never understand the enjoyment some people got from hurting others." A letter from Anshel reveals how life has become so hard in Paris for Jews and it troubles "him to think of his friend being called names and bullied." He asks a schoolmate, Katrina if it would be better to be a bully rather than be bullied and agrees with her that this would never be a good thing.

Gradually however Pierrot's view begin to change, influenced by the Nazi culture around him at the Berghof. As he comes to know Adolf Hitler, he comes to embody the tyranny of Nazi ideology. It begins with Pierrot wearing the uniform of the Deutsches Jungvolk. When Pierrot had first arrived at the Berghof, Ernst spoke to him about uniforms, explaining why people like to wear them. "Because a person who wears one believes he can do anything he likes...He can treat others in a way he never would while wearing normal clothes. Collars, trench coats or jackboots -- uniforms allows us to exercise our cruelty without ever feeling guilt." When Pierrot puts on the uniform he feels exactly as Ernst told him weeks earlier, that he can do whatever he wants. He feels empowered just like Rottenfuher Kotler who stole his sandwiches on the train.  "He...realized how wonderful it would be to have such authority; to be able to take what you wanted, when you wanted, from whomever you wanted, instead of always having things taken from you." Hitler tells Pierrot he must wear the uniform all the time.

Hitler changes how Pierrot views his father's World War I service. His mother believed that although his father didn't die in the war, the war was what killed him. Hitler tells Pierrot that his mother was ignorant because his father should have been proud to die for Germany. Pierrot has read Hitler's Mein Kampf and is given Henry Ford's The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem. Almost nine, Pierrot begins treating the servants rudely, to the shock of Beatrix who discovers that her young nephew believes the Jews stole Germany's dignity and that his father was a coward who "allowed weakness to vanquish his spirit."  By the time he's eleven, Pierrot acts cruelly towards the servants, threatening Emma and becoming enraged when he finds an unread letter from Anshel in his discarded book, Emil and the Detectives. Now his view of Anshel is different; "He had like Anshel once, of course he had, but they were just children back then, and he hadn't understood what it meant to be friends with a Jew."

The change in Pierrot does not go unnoticed by Beatrix and Ernst who states, "He's becoming one of them. He's getting more like them every day. He's even started ordering the servants around. I scolded him a few days ago and he told me that I should take my complaints to the Fuhrer or be silent." It is these changes that convince Beatrix and Ernst that they must act to save Pierrot and all young Germans just like him.

There are several people in Pierrot's life who try to show him that his beliefs are wrong but even more that his actions are hurting those around him. Besides Beatrix and Ernst, his classmate Katarina directly points out to him the consequences of his actions involving Heinrich who told his classmates about the things his father had said about Hitler. Heinrich's father was dragged out of his bed and has disappeared while Heinrich and his family lost their home.

However, the transition of Pierrot from innocent French orphan to rabid German Nazi is completed when he betrays Ernst and Beatrix who plot to poison Hitler on Christmas Eve. Discovering their plot, he informs Hitler who has both executed. Pierrot tells himself that his aunt is traitor to the Fatherland and that she must be punished. From this point on, as Pierrot grows older, he becomes more cruel. He threatens Emma if she gives him any more of Anshel's letters, and he even forces himself on Katarina. Katarina is saved by Emma who tells him she doesn't understand who he has become.
" 'You were such a sweet boy when you first came here. Is it really that easy for the innocent to be corrupted?'
Pieter said nothing. He wanted to curse her, to bring his fury down upon her, upon both of them, but something in the way she stared at him, the mixture of pity and contempt on her face, brought some memory of who he had once been back to his mind. Katarina was weeping now, and he looked away, willing them both to leave him alone."
Despite his shame, Pierrot tells the Fuhrer about what Emma did, lying about his part and she is taken away. Katarina's family shop is sold and they vanish from Berchtesgaden. Pierrot now becomes known in Berchtesgaden as "the boy at the top of the mountain" for what he has done.

It is only when the Allies reach the mountain and find Pierrot, now a sixteen year old, hiding in a closet that he is pulled both literally and symbolically out of the darkness of Nazism into the light of liberation. Herta, the only remaining staff member admonished Pierrot before the soldiers came. " 'Don't ever pretend that you didn't know what was going on here. You have eyes and you have ears. And you sat in that room on many occasions, taking notes. You heard it all. You saw it all. And you also know the things you are responsible for...The deaths you have on your conscience. But you're a young man still, you're only sixteen; you have many years ahead of you to come to terms with your complicity in these matters. Just don't ever tell yourself that you didn't know...That would be the worst crime of all.' "

As it turns out, Pierrot seeks redemption by telling his story. Boyne gives his readers a wonderful twist at the end of the novel, explaining how Pierrot's story came to be told. Pierrot sees the fruits of the Nazi regime in the destroyed cities and the ruined families of Germany. He leaves Germany and returns to the city he once considered his home, Paris. The novel ends on a somewhat hopeful note, with Pierrot overwhelmed with guilt but hoping that his story might help him and others come to terms with what happened.

At the beginning of the novel,  when Pierrot leaves the orphanage run by the kindly Durand sisters, he is given a story book by Simone. That story book is Emil and the Detectives written by Erich Kastner, who was opposed to Adolf Hitler and whose novel, Fabian was publicly burned by the Nazis. The story is about a little boy on his way to the city for the first time and who has money stolen from him by a man when he falls asleep on the train. Determined to retrieve his money Emil follows the thief and with the help of a boy from the city, he is able to prove the money is his. He receives a reward because it turns out the man is a wanted thief. Emil and the Detectives demonstrates that even children have the capacity to fight against evil. Every problem Emil encounters he faces directly and has friends to help him.

In The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, Simone and her sister Adele know that Pierrot will be going to a place where he will be challenged to keep his values. Giving him this book is a foreshadowing of the troubles to come and a reminder that he can fight and overcome the evil he will encounter. The story told in Emil and the Detectives parallels Pierrot's experiences until he arrives in Germany, something he quickly realizes. However, unlike Emil, Pierrot does not fight against the evil he encounters. Instead he allows himself to be drawn into it, he refuses the advice and help of others until he himself becomes complicit in the Nazi horrors. And when he sees the book in Hitler's library four years after arriving at the Berghof, Pierrot dismisses it as a quaint children's book for which he has no use.

The Boy At the Top of the Mountain is deeply moving and terribly tragic. Historical fiction fans will appreciate John Boyne's extraordinary tale of coming of age in an era of unspeakable horrors, in the heart of Nazi Germany.

Those readers interested in learning more about the Berghof which is the setting for much of The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, will find many pictures of the mountain retreat on the website, Third Reich in Ruins.

Uncommon Travel Germany also has some interesting pictures of life at the Berghof during Hitler's time there. The Allied bombing completely destroyed the Berghof and it was completely eradicated after the war so nothing remained of the buildings.




Book Details:

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne
Toronto: Penguin Random House Canada    2015
215 pp.

Monday, July 4, 2016

White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages

White Sands, Red Menace picks up the story of Dewey Kerrigan and Suze Gordon, post-World War II.The novel covers the span of approximately one year from May 12, 1946 to May 15, 1947.

It is May 12, 1946 and the United States has won the war in the Pacific, dropping two atomic bombs, which Dewey and Suze's parents helped to build, on cities in Japan. Casualties were in the hundreds of thousands and the public, including the scientists remain divided over the use of nuclear technology. Dewey continues to live with the Gordons who are now located in Alamogordo, New Mexico, a hour from the Mexican border and only sixty miles from the Trinity test site. The novel opens with Dewey and the Gordons driving to the White Sands Proving Grounds, a flat expanse of arid desert where the US government is testing the launch of the first American rocket launched into outer space.

The American army captured three hundred boxcars full of V-2 rocket parts along with the instructions, all written in German. The German scientists who were working on the rocket, including von Braun have been brought over to America to help the country build its own rockets. Dr. Gordon tells Dewey and Suze that this is the first rocket to travel straight up into the outer atmosphere. The launch is successful.

Meanwhile Dewey and Suze continue to develop their areas of interest: Dewey with building various machines and Suze with her art creations. In their shared bedroom, the two girls work on creating a wall of artwork and mechanical pieces that they name "the Wall".  In July, Dewey receives a cheque for three thousand dollars from her grandmother, Nana Gallucci's estate, plus her jewelry and her Nana's clothing. She also finds a picture of her grandparents and her father Jimmy Kerrigan and mother, Rita Gallucci Kerrigan when they much younger.

Suze's father continues to be very involved in the development of a rocket, while her mother works from home to stop further development of nuclear weapons. A chemist, her efforts are no longer needed by the military and she desperately wants to resume her career at Berkley. Longing for a connection to her mother, it is Suze's father who takes her to the desert to see the beautiful sunset and the stars. He tells her that he's going to be out at the base again for some time, involved in launch tests.

Over the course of the next year, Suze and Dewey make new friends. In August, Suze meets a girl, Ynez Esquero, from the southern part of Alamogordo which is primarily Mexican. This part of town is known as "Little Chihuahua" and the Hispanics are not allowed to live north of Tenth. Ynez is selling tamales which Suze discovers she really likes. Suze visits Ynez's home and learns that she wants to live in Hollywood some day. Ynez's mother, Dona Luisa, teaches Suze how to make tamales.

The school year starts and Dewey who is now attending Alamogordo High, is forced to take Home Economics and to repeat Algebra instead of being allowed to enroll in the grade nine trigonometry class. Dewey and Suze are in English, Social Science and Home Ec together. When a film is to be shown in Home Ec class, a boy named Owen Parker brings in the projector but has trouble getting things running. Dewey unobtrusively helps him and later on Owen helps her by taking her to his father's repair shop to teach her how to solder. Through the school year Dewey and Suze build new friendships while their own relationship becomes more secure. And as each face startling new situations to deal with, the true meaning of family is discovered.

Discussion

White Sands, Red Menace is a fitting conclusion to the story of Dewey and Suze and the beginning of the atomic age. Once again Klages does an excellent job recreating the setting for her novel - this time, life in postwar America, late 1940's.

The social and political fallout from the development of the atom bomb is shown throughout the novel. Sometimes the consequences are personal for Dewey and Suze, other times they are more indirect. For example Suze comes home one day to find her mother grieving over the death of a colleague, Lou Slotin who died from radiation sickness as a result of a plutonium accident.  Terry Gordon reveals to her daughter Suze that only the first hundred thousand casualties in Hiroshima where due to the actual bomb explosion. The rest died from radiation sickness like Slotin, which horrifies Suze. In Social Science class Suze confronts Mrs. McDonald telling her the government won't let the newspapers print the truth about Japan "because it might scare people and turn them against 'our new friend, the atom.' " When she tells the class what is really happening she is sent to the principal's office.

Klage uses a conversation between Dewey and Suze to hint at the hypocrisy of the American government in executing the remaining Nazi's at Nuremberg while not executing scientists like von Braun whose rockets killed thousands in Britain. Suze tells her, "My dad says it doesn't matter, 'cause we need 'em to teach our army how to work the controls and stuff." When the Gordons have one of von Braun's crew, Rudy Mueller and his son Kurt over for Thanksgiving Kurt tells Suze, Dewey and Owen how the Germans were able to use many "workers" to make so many rockets at Nordhausen.  Suze realizes that Kurt is referring to THE Nordhausen where the U.S. troops discovered the bodies of 3,000 slave laborers and where 20,000 slaves died making rocket parts. Suze realizes that if she knows, likely her dad and the other government scientists know too.

There's plenty of cultural references throughout the novel. For example, Dewey and Suze go to the theatre to see Tarzan and the Leopard Woman which starred Johnny Weissmuller and Brenda Joyce. The theatre also shows Spider Woman Strikes Back and the previews show the atomic bomb test at the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific and Chapter Nine of Captain Midnight. In 1946 New Mexico, black children are not allowed to attend Alamogordo High and attain only a grade eight education. Obviously this will affect the types of employment available to black men and women. When Owen comes to visit Dewey he tells her about seeing a television in El Paso, Texas. In 1946 a ten inch television cost four hundred dollars. At this time there was no television station in El Paso but one in Los Angeles. He's certain that soon televisions will soon be sold.

The years immediately following the atomic bombing of Japan saw many products in the US marketed as "atomic" suggesting they had special abilities. Suze had expected her parents and the other scientists would be heroes for ending the war in the Pacific through the use of the atom bomb. However, when the world saw the damage done by the bombs, there were no celebrations, but America could not admit this. It would be unpatriotic. So Suze believes that instead American businesses try to minimize the harm of atomic technology by marketing it as beneficial to society.  "Songs, ads, comic -- everything was 'atomic' now, like just using the word would make stuff special? Atomic-like action! Who in their right mind wanted a cleanser that worked like the Bomb? It would blow up your sink, your kitchen, turn your whole neighborhood into ashes and rubble and radiation. Some way to clean."

Readers will get a good sense of the social norms of the post war era in which women had to conform to certain expectations. During the war, women worked in factories while men were overseas fighting but with the end of the war, society returns to the traditional roles expected of men and women. Men are to learn mechanical skills like welding and woodworking while women are expected to learn domestic skills like cooking and hygiene. Klage uses the character of Dewey who is different from most girls her age to show how difficult it was to fight the social norms of the times. Dewey will be in grade eight and wants to take shop but is told, "Oh no. Those are boys' classes." Instead she is forced to enroll in Home Economics. In fact Dewey is not even allowed to go into that part of the school only because she is a girl. She worries that not taking shop will affect her chance of attending MIT for engineering.

Klages portrayal of the relationship between Dewey and Suze is very realistic. The Gordon's have taken in Dewey when her father died. Dewey and Terry Gordon form a bond based on their love of science and the fact that they think in a similar way. This aspect of their relationship causes Suze to feel left out and jealous. Dewey seems to recognize this and tries to help Suze. When the girls have a fight over Dewey going to practice driving with Suze's mother, Suze finally admits to her friend, "I fee like an orphan. Dad's off with his rockets, and Mom's always busy." The fight leads Suze to talk to her mom about how she's feeling and her mother tells her,
 " 'I'm glad. Because I do love Dewey. As much as if she was your real sis--sibling. But that doesn't mean I love you any less. You know that, don't you?
'I guess so.'
'Oh, that was convincing.' She turned in her chair so they sat knee to knee. 'You're my daughter, no matter what. Always will be.
'Even though I don't like science much,' Suze said in a small voice. 'You're not disappointed I'm not more like you?' She paused, 'And Dewey.' "
Suze's mom reassures her of her love and tells Suze that she's more like her mom than she suspects. She shows Suze a picture of her and her friends, how she was tall like Suze at the same age and just as curious.

Dewey herself must also come to terms with the relationship between herself and her mother, who reappears in her life later in the novel. She learns the truth about her parents and why her mother left and she must make the difficult decision about what part her mother will play in her own life. In this regard Dewey is presented as a very mature fourteen year old who knows what her goals are and who is determined to achieve them. With the help of her best friend Suze, Dewey takes the unusual step of taking control of her own destiny.

There are a few historical facts peppered throughout the novel. For example Louis Slotin was a real historical figure, a Canadian physicist who worked to assemble the nuclear core of the Trinity bomb. Slotin died from a massive dose of neutron radiation when he accidentally caused a critical reaction to occur. The type of testing Slotin was involved in was called criticality testing and was considered very dangerous. Another historical fact is the McMahon Act which placed atomic research in the hands of the scientists removing it from military control.

White Sands, Red Menace is a fascinating read about the period of history just prior to the start of the Cold War. Klages offers a detailed Author's Note at the back which provides some further information and resources on the 1940's, the V-2 Rocket Program and the Atomic Bomb. Fans of historical fiction will really enjoy this novel about a little known era of American history.

Book Details:

White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages
New York: Viking Press       2008
337 pp.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose

Blue Birds is a historical novel-in-verse that tells the story of the English who come to settle on Roanoke Island in Virginia in the 1500's. Written for nine to twelve year olds, the story is told from alternate points of view: twelve year old English settler Alis and thirteen year old Roanoke native, Kimi.

The novel begins in July 1587 with Alis, her family part of a group of 117 English settlers having arrived off the coast of North America after a three month journey. She's left behind her best friend, Joan, and the suffocating smells of rot and filth of London. The pilot of their ship, Simon Ferdinando has taken them to the island of Roanoke, miles from where they were supposed to land. Governor John White has done nothing about it, angering many of the settlers. As Alis, her heavily pregnant mother and father board the pinnace to travel from the ship to shore, she holds the wooden blue bird her Uncle Samuel carved and gave her years before. Alis expects her uncle to be on shore to greet them.

The English settlers are accompanied to the land which they have named Virginia in honour of the English Queen Elizabeth, by Manteo, a member of the Croatoan tribe. No one greets them, not even Alis's Uncle Samuel. After George Howe Sr. and Roger Bailie investigate, the Governor reveals that the settlement has been abandoned for some time and that they have found a building burned to the ground and the bones of a man. He decides that they will stay at the settlement through the fall and winter and in the spring sail to Chesapeake to establish the City of Ralegh. Arlis's uncle is no where to be found and eventually her father tells her that it's likely he has been killed by the Indians.

The arrival of the English is watched by Kimi a young girl belonging to the Roanoke tribe. She remembers the first white people who came, men only bearing gifts and tools and who took Wanchese and Manteo back to their country. The second group brought illness and drought, beheading Kimi's father, Wingina who was the weroance or leader of the Roanoke. The third group was killed by Wanchese. Kimi is surprised to see women and children with the English men. She quickly notices a girl her own age.

Kimi tells Wanchese about the women and children but he tells her it is not her concern. Kimi reveals that she misses her sister Alawa intensely. She knows the presence of women mean the English mean to stay and that they must force them to leave "before their roots take hold."

The English set about restoring the settlement which contains  a few cottages, animal pens, a barracks which was used by the English soldiers, a jail, a chapel, an armory and a forge surrounded by four earthen walls.  The few women, Mrs. Archard and Mrs. Dare who is the daughter of Governor White and who is also pregnant, want the Governor to sail to Chesapeake.

One day Kimi comes upon Alis who has stolen away from the settlement, in the forest. Seeing Kimi and the spiral markings on her bare arms, Alis flees in fear, dropping the bird carving of her Uncle Samuel which Kimi finds and considers to be Alis's montoac. George Dare, son of George Dare Sr. tells Alis he has seen the girl in the forest but Alis refuses to admit seeing her. Alis and Kimi meet again in the forest and this time they study each other before Kimi speaks angrily to Alis in a language she cannot understand. This causes Alis to run away a second time.

In the settlement Alis is assigned to care for Tommy and Ambrose, Mrs. Archard's children. Alis cannot trust anyone with her secret - meeting the girl in the forest. Meanwhile Kimi decides to bury Alis's montoac but later finds she needs to dig it up. After five days Alis manages to return to the forest and meets Kimi. Just as their friendship begins to grow  Mr. Howe is killed by the Roanoke Indians while digging clams on the shore. Can Alis and Kimi overcome the hatred and fear their people have for one another and develop the bonds of friendship?

Discussion

Caroline Starr Rose has written a beautiful, touching story based on the tragedy that is known to history as the Lost Colony. The story centers around the disastrous attempts by the English to establish a colony on the east coast of America in the late 1500's. The land the English named Virginia was inhabited by Native Americans who at first found the English friendly. However, the cultural differences between the two races proved to be almost impossible to surmount. Murders by both sides created mistrust and hatred. Into this world stepped one hundred and seventeen colonists in 1587. The author, using the known details of this historical event has created a poignant story about two girls from two very different cultures meeting and forming a bond of friendship so strong that they both try to save the other from what appears to be the inevitable war between their peoples.

Starr Rose noted in her research that there were no girls listed in the names of the passengers from the 1587 voyage, so she decided to write about one girl who might have made the journey. That character, Alis Harvie is completely fictional as is the character of Kimi. Using these two characters, the author explores the events that are known from Governor John White who returned to England with Ferdinando and creates a plausible account of what the colonist's may have done after his departure.

Alis and Kimi are caught in the war between their two races. Both girls are deeply lonely and have lost someone dear to them. Alis's beloved Uncle Samuel was likely killed by the Croatoans while Kimi's much loved older sister Alawa was killed by the English soldier. Each has a gift from their lost beloved relative; Alis a carved blue bird and Kimi a piece of ribbon her sister was given by the English.

The author's free verse focuses on showing how each race, the Roanoke and the English misunderstand one another, leading to a bitter cycle of mistrust and murder. Eventually the two races can no longer coexist and the English must leave for Croatoan

At first Kimi feels that she has been tainted by Alis's presence.

I walk to the stream,
stoop to cleanse my feet,
wash off her strangeness
as an outsider does
before entering the village.

And she wonders why she feels like the stranger in her own land. But when they meet a third time Kimi feels Alis is daring and Alis believes Kimi to be beautiful. Alis admits "Something fascinating, fragile grows between us." They touch and Kimi realizes that Alis feels like any person would.

The two girls eventually talk in their own way about what happened before Alis and her family came to Kimi's land. Alis realizes,
The English,
my countrymen,
have brought upon the Roanoke
the same fear and horror 
we feel for them.

And Kimi realizes,
The English 
have wronged us.
But there is suffering
we have also waged.

Kimi knows Alis warned the Roanoke of the impending attack by the settlers.Kimi recognizes that the attack by the English need not destroy her budding friendship with Alis.

While weeding she notes the bean and the corn grow together.
I pat the soil around the bean
trace its growth from roots
to spindly stalk interwoven with the corn

These two plants thrive together
make my people strong.
There is no reason to let my anger
uproot something good.

This beautifully crafted novel is about friendship and openness to learn about those whose way of life may be very different. The author doesn't take sides and shows how both sides contributed to a situation that made life full of fear and intolerance.

Caroline Starr Rose has included a map of Roanoke Island 1587 and provides a Glossary of the now extinct dialect of the Croatoan and Roanoke peoples as well as a detailed Author's Note explaining the history of the attempted settlement of Roanoke Island by the English.

Book Details:

Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose
New York: G.P. Putnam's Son's   2015
393 pp. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Last Star by Rick Yancey

Note: those who have not read the novel should NOT visit Rick Yancey's website as there is a major spoiler by a fan on his home page.

The Last Star begins with Cassie, her little brother Sam (Nugget), the human-alien Evan Walker, Ben Parish (Zombie), Dumbo and Megan hiding out at Grace’s well stocked house. Cassie furiously confronts Evan telling him she doesn’t understand WHY the aliens killed off the human population using such cruel methods when they could have done it differently. Evan tells her that they could have lived with humans indefinitely, sharing their knowledge and bringing peace and order to the world. He tells her he wanted to do it differently but they wouldn't listen. He tells her that for ten thousand years they have had immortality. “An existence without pain, without hunger, without any physical needs at all. But immortality has a price. Without bodies, we lost the things that come with them. Things like autonomy and benevolence. Compassion.”

Ben Parish (Zombie) tells Cassie he doesn’t buy Evan’s explanations, that Ringer was right, that there is something that doesn’t add up about all this. “Ringer was right Cassie. This doesn’t make a lot of sense. He kidnaps a human body so he can murder all the unkidnapped human bodies. Then one day he decides he’d rather murder his own kind so he can save all the unkidnapped human bodies. And not just murder one or two of his kind…All of them. He wants to destroy his entire civilization, …For a girl. A girl!” Ringer didn’t understand why aliens who don’t have bodies need a planet and why they came for ours.

Ben wants to go with Dumbo to the caverns to find Ringer and Teacup. However both Cassie and Evan think he should wait until Evan blows up the mother ship. Evan tells them he needs to blow up the mother ship because on the spring equinox the ship is set to unleash bombs over the entire world that will destroy every city on Earth to complete the cleansing. This is the last step before the launch of the 5th Wave. Before the bombs are unleashed all the Silencers will be brought on the ship.

Meanwhile Ringer (Marika) who has now been enhanced with the 12th System, a nanotechnology that allows her superhuman abilities is allowed to escape the military base. Razor killed Teacup because he knew that Ringer would never leave her. He wanted her to be free to do what she needs to do. When Vosch does not come after her Ringer goes back because she believes that she needs to kill Evan Walker. Ringer knows that Vosch is human and he tells her that he is necessary to facilitate the radical intervention to save mankind. "...we were doomed to destroy ourselves and our home. The only solution was radical intervention. Destroy the human village in order to save it." Vosch tells Ringer that it wasn't enough to just destroy all of humanity, but that it had to change human nature.

He assigns another woman, Lieutenant Constance Pierce whom Ringer hates to accompany her to find Evan. In a briefing with Vosch and Pierce, Vosch reveals that a reconnaissance flight has discovered that Dumbo, Poundcake, Sullivan, Nugget, Walker and Zombie are holed up in a house about fifteen miles southeast of Urbana. However, two nights ago two people left the house heading towards the caverns. Ringer tells Vosch they are heading to the caverns to look for her. He tells Ringer that she and Pierce will be dropped in ahead of their arrival and that Pierce's job will be to bring back Evan Walker. Vosch wants Walker because his program is no longer functioning and he wants to know why. He tells Ringer once he has Walker she and her friends will be free to go. Ringer knows however that Vosch intends to kill all of them. He gives her a green capsule - a modified bomb similar to the one the child in wheat carried but six times more powerful. She refuses this at first. When Vosch asks Ringer what is the lesson of the child in the wheat, Ringer tells him that it is to kill trust and love in humans. No one can trust anyone, not even a child. "Without trust there's no cooperation. And without cooperation there's no progress. History stops." Vosch states "The answer to the human problem is the death of what makes us human."

In the C-160 Ringer tries to explain what is happening to Pierce who believes she is an alien. "Everything you think is bullshit. Who you think you are, your memories,all of it. Before you were born, they embedded a program in your brain that booted up when you hit puberty...You've been infected with a viral program that literally rewired your brain to 'remember' things that didn't happen. You aren't an alien consciousness here to wipe out humanity and colonize Earth. You're human. Like me. Like Vosch. Like everyone else. " Ringer tells Pierce that if she believes she will return to the mother ship and the 5th Wave will finish off humans she is mistaken. Instead she will be fighting the army she's created until there are no bullets to fight with. Without trust and cooperation, a perpetual Stone Age will be born which mankind will never progress out of because no one will ever trust anyone else. Constance's refusal to believe her leads Ringer to decide she has to kill Pierce and she has to kill Walker too. They are dropped in near a farmhouse and Ringer and Pierce quickly separate. Ringer experiences nausea - her second bout since returning to Vosch and she wonders if there's something wrong with the 12th System. Outside the farm, Ringer meets a priest who seems kindly enough at first. But when Ringer tells the priest she's a Silencer he attacks her. Ringer realizes that Constance was here to neutralize a Silencer. He beats Ringer and is able to penetrate into her mind discovering what happened to her, Razor and Teacup. He also tells her there is another and asks her if she knows of its existence.(This is a reference to her unborn baby.)

Back at the house, with Zombie and Dumbo gone, Cassie's little brother Sam takes an M9 Beretta he has found and hides it in the belt of his pants. Sam decides he will watch over Megan and also Evan. Evan and Cassie make love.

Meanwhile Zombie and Dumbo reach Urbana where Dumbo is shot in the back. Zombie manages to get him to a safe place, pack his wound and then sets off to find the killer. He discovers an old lady living in a boarded up room with cats. He wants to shoot her but it isn't until she attacks him that Zombie realizes he's found the Urbana Silencer. He barely survives the encounter - a cat eating old lady silencer who's been enhanced. Zombie returns to Dumbo and tells him has to leave him but promises to return.  Zombie arrives at the welcome center buildings outside the caverns where he sees a priest. After setting off a grenade, Zombie falls into a pit containing hundreds of decomposing bodies. In the pit someone calls his name and tells him to play dead. The priest peers into the pit and tells him to not be afraid, to climb out not knowing that Constance is also in the pit. She pulls the priest into the hole and blows his brains out. Out of the pit Zombie meets Constance and Ringer. Ringer lies to Zombie about how Teacup died and about who Constance really is, telling him that Constance was in the caves and that the priest began to kill people. Eventually she realized that the priest was a Silencer.

Zombie fills her in on what happened to the squad. Although Zombie is leery of Constance she wins him over by pretending to be vulnerable. They travel into Urbana and find Dumbo who has crawled out of the building Zombie left him. Dumbo dies and Zombie buries him.  Zombie wants to kill Constance but Ringer doesn't allow him even though she knows what Constance is. The three travel back to Grace's house where Constance almost immediately attempts to kill Walker. She grabs Sam when she offers him her hand to shake but takes him hostage. However Constance is killed by Sam who uses the gun hidden in his pants. Ringer wants to kill Evan but Zombie refuses and she shoots him in the thigh.

Since Constance was being tracked, Vosch knows their location and the group finds itself attacked by a Black Hawk helicopter firing hellfire. Zombie, Cassie, Sam, Megan and Evan head to the basement but Evan decides to surrender because he knows Vosch wants him. The helicopter removes Evan while three hundred meters from the house, Squad 19 is waiting to move into the house. However Ringer takes each of the kids who belong to the squad down.

Zombie watches Ringer bury the young kids and asks her what happened to her as she is no longer the person her remembers. She tells him that she is enhanced like Evan, Constance, the priest and the cat lady and that she is also pregnant - which she asks him to keep secret. Zombie brings Ringer into the basement to Cassie, Sam and Megan and tells her that Evan got on the chopper and that Ringer has killed the strike team. Ringer explains to Cassie and Zombie (Ben) what she believes has happened. She tells them that the mother ship is possibly automated and that the aliens may not even be on it and maybe never were. It's also possible that the aliens who sent the ship might even be extinct.

Cassie is not sure she believes what Ringer has told them; that alien probes found earth a few thousand years ago. After observing humans they decided that we are harmful to both ourselves and the planet and they built a mother ship. The mother ship contained bombs, drones and a viral plague. This along with the use of humans infected with a computer program would be used to wipe out ninety-nine point nine percent of Earth's population. Ringer tells her that her Silencer theory - that a computer program was downloaded into fetuses and activated at puberty to make them believe they were aliens is true and was confirmed by Vosch. What Ringer doesn't understand is why Vosch wants Evan Walker whose Silencer program malfunctioned. The next stage will be the unleashing of bombs to destroy all the cities on Earth but before that pods will be sent to pick up the Silencers. Ringer doesn't know if the pods will actually come, but she does believe that all the cities on Earth will be bombed as cities hold the memories of human civilization. A culture without memories is a dead culture.

Cassie and Ben and Ringer must now decide what to do. Cassie believes that they are now at the point where they are likely to die and that their death should be meaningful. They could flee into the wilderness, but they know eventually the 5th Wave will find them. Ringer tells them that the Black Hawk chopper will be returning to pick up the strike team. Cassie wants to hijack the Black Hawk, fly to the military base and rescue Evan Walker. She also notes this will give Ringer the chance to kill Vosch. They work out a plan, taking the uniforms from the dead strike team and their trackers so the Black Hawk will zero in on them. Before they leave, Ben finds Ringer ready to drink antifreeze to cause her to abort Razor's baby, but he refuses to allow this. He tells her he will be there for her. As the chopper returns, Ben, Sam and Megan hide under blankets so the Black Hawk won't detect their body heat and Cassie and Ringer trick their way onto the chopper. They force the pilot, Bob to fly all of them to the Ohio caverns where they leave Ben, Sam and Megan. Bob flies Cassie and Ringer towards the military base so they can be captured as planned. Ringer knows that Vosch will now be aware of the dead strike team and the commandeered chopper. Cassie and Ringer's plan is the only one that seems to offer any hope to mankind. But what will the cost be? And can they succeed in turning the tide in the war against humanity?

Discussion

The Last Star is an exciting finale to the 5th Wave series by Rick Yancey. Like the previous novels in the series it is detailed, lengthy and intense. It presents readers with the fate of all the remaining characters in the novel. In the Last Star, although the cast of characters remaining has dwindled, the main characters are Cassie and Ringer. It is Ringer who learns what is really happening and who understands how the alien program has functioned, but it is Cassie who out of love for her brother Sam, makes the ultimate sacrifice. And that's the main theme of this novel, the mystery of human love and how it is humanity's most redeeming quality. It turns out, love is the one thing the aliens who were observing Earth could not understand.

Ringer's theories about what is really going on are confirmed when Evan is captured and Vosch reveals to him the truth of the alien invasion. He tells Evan that a mechanical owl visited his mother when she was pregnant with him and installed the program into his developing brain and then returned when he went through puberty to give him the 12th System. Vosch also reveals that there are no aliens on board the mother ship nor inside of him. He brags to Evan about the carefully constructed program designed to save Earth.   "It is completely automated, like your old friend here, designed by its makers after centuries of careful study and deliberation and sent to this planet to wean the human population to a sustainable level. And, of course, to keep it there indefinitely by changing human nature itself...A flawless, self-sustaining loop, an immaculate system in which trust and cooperation can never take root." The goal was to change human nature so that it would be indifferent to the suffering others.

However, unexpectedly Evan reveals a fatal flaw in the alien's plan. Evan's Silencer program, installed in him when he was still in utero seems to have failed as he did not complete his mission of killing Cassie when he found her. Vosch captures Evan because he needs to find out the cause of the failure. After running tests on Evan, Vosch realizes that love - Evan's love for Cassie is what overrode his Silencer program. "She may be right: Love may be the singularity, the inexplicable, ungovernable, ineffable mystery, impossible to predict or control, the virus that crashed a program designed by beings next to which we are no more evolved than a cockroach." And so Vosch decides that his answer to Ringer's claim will be to erase what Evan loves so that he will kill. He will remove Evan's human qualities, erase his memories of Cassie and turn him into a Silencer he was meant to be. He will be a human indifferent to the suffering of others.

Later, when Ringer is lying broken after her encounter with Evan who is now a Silencer, Vosch finds her. He tells Ringer he's been on the mother ship and that he agreed to work the program in exchange for having his consciousness preserved aboard the mother ship. He also tells Ringer that these aliens have "saved" other planets besides Earth. Vosch admits that there was no flaw in Evan's programming, that the aliens simply had no understanding of love and therefore could not develop an algorithm to deal with this factor.

When Cassie and Ringer break into the military base, they find the room where memories are downloaded into Wonderland, a program that stores memories and winnows out the weak soldiers in the 5th Wave. They hope to locate Evan by finding his memories which will tell them what happened to him here. But sifting through all the millions of downloaded memories to find Evan's will take too long, so Cassie courageously has all the memories of people downloaded into her mind including those of Evan before Vosch erased him. From his memories she learns that the aliens had no answer for love, no solution for love. She sees what Vosch told Evan: "They thought they could crush it out of us, burn it from our brains, replace love with its opposite - not hate, indifference. They thought they could turn men into sharks." This was a reference to the alien's belief that in order to save humanity they needed to make men like sharks. Studying Earth they discovered rule the ocean because "their complete indifference to everything except feeding, procreation, and defending their territory. The shark does not love. It feels no empathy. It trust nothing. It lives in perfect harmony with its environment because it has no aspirations or desires. And no pity. A shark feels no sorrow, no remorse, hopes for nothing, dreams of nothing, has no illusions about itself or anything beyond itself."

The major symbol of the mystery of love in the novel is Sam's teddy bear, named Bear.  Sam Sullivan's bear is a symbol of the indomitable force that is love. Cassie marvels that of all the things mankind has accomplished, from inventing poetry to designing rockets to take man into space, the "most wonderful thing of all ...is stuffing wads of polyester into an anatomically incorrect, cartoonish ideal of one of nature's most fearsome predators for no other reason than to soothe a child." Sam's bear motivated Cassie to continue to fight after Sam goes missing in the first novel. She hung onto his bear as a sign of hope and her love for her little brother.

In The Last Star, Sam refuses to take back his teddy, Bear, after having given him to Megan. He is a soldier now and done with toys. Megan has renamed him Captain, but Sam tells her his name is Bear and that he can't have a new name like the rest of the squad because he isn't a part of it -an oblique reference to what Bear really stands for. Bear is love and love has no part of a soldier. However, when Sam tries to give Bear to Cassie before she and Ringer leave for the military base, Cassie refuses. She tells him to keep Bear, that he's very important. "So hang on to him, understand? You take care of him and protect him and don't let anybody hurt him. Bear is very important to the grand scheme of things. He's like gravity. Without him, the universe would fall apart." This is Cassie telling her younger brother that love is the most important thing of all because it is what keeps us human and what holds the world together. He needs to remember what love is and how he was loved by their parents, by her.

This is an important message for Sam because he's lost the ability to trust people - exactly what the alien program wants. At the house Sam feels he cannot trust anyone any more. "There's no way to tell who's human anymore. Evan Walker looked human but he wasn't, not inside, not where it matters. Even people like Megan, who are human - maybe- couldn't be trusted, because you can't know what the enemy has done to them. Zombie, Cassie, Dumbo... you can't really trust them, either. They could be just like Evan Walker." Sam has also lost his faith in God. "He used to pray every night, all the time, and the only answer God ever gave was no...You can't trust God, either. Even God is a liar...All the people who died must have prayed too, and God said, No, no, no, seven billion times, seven billion nos, God said no, no, no." But what is the antidote for a lack of trust in others? Unconditional love.

The fates of all the remaining characters are sorted out in The Last Star. Perhaps the most interesting is that of the character Vosch. Vosch turns out to be the facilitator of the entire cleansing of Earth. He tells Evan, "I have been entrusted with the greatest mission in human history: the salvation of our species. Like you, I've known since I was a boy what was coming. Unlike you, I knew the truth." This suggests that Vosch was given a program that would make him the manager of the cleansing. He also reveals his loneliness to Evan and that only a few knew the reality of the invasion. He sees himself as much a victim as Evan is.

Ringer whose real name is Marika is the one character who seems to have grasped the reality of what is happening. The strategy of the alien programing was to wipe out most of humanity and reset it in order to save the planet and humans. Ringer states, " 'Not enough to level what we built. We'll repopulate. We'll rebuild. To save the planet, to save our species, they have to change us.' She touches her chest. 'Here. If the Others can take away trust, they take away cooperation. Take away cooperation, and civilization is impossible.' " Ultimately it was a battle over the heart of humans, but the aliens were at a disadvantage because they couldn't understand the human heart and its ability to love. The proof of the power of love is in the relationship that develops between Ringer and Ben. She reveals that she can't go on but Ben tells her he will carry her.


The Last Star ends hopefully despite the tragic end of one of the main characters. However the reader is left feeling that this was not a senseless loss because it leads to a turn in the war. The Last Star is well written, filled with sequences that are both thrilling and terrifying. It is a study in human nature, what makes us human, and challenges us to define the purpose of our existence in the universe.

Book Details:

The Last Star by Rick Yancey
New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons       2016
338 pp.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Girl I Used To Be by April Henry

Seventeen year old Olivia Reinhart's life is suddenly drawn to the past when Detective Campbell and Chaplain Farben arrive at her apartment to tell her that her missing father has been located. Olivia's real name was Ariel Benson and her parents were Naomi Benson and Terry Weeks.

Fourteen years ago her mother's body was found in a forest in the Southern Oregon Cascade mountains. The family had gone into the forest to find a Christmas tree when a terrible tragedy unfolded. Her mother had been stabbed nineteen times and had desperately tried to fight off her killer. It was widely believed that her father killed her mother and then drove to the Salem Walmart where he dropped three year old Ariel off. His car was later found abandoned at the airport.

Detective Campbell who is from the Portland police tells Olivia that her father's jawbone was recently found by a woman walking her dog. His remains were identified through DNA testing and they now believe her parent's killer probably was the one who drove her to the Walmart. Police are still struggling to determine a motive as robbery was an unlikely motive because Olivia's parents did not have money. It's likely Olivia was left alive because she was considered too young to tell police what she had seen.

Olivia remembers the episodes that carried her mother's murder on America's Most Wanted. The first episode helped police located her when she went missing. After her mother's murder and her father's disappearance, three year old Ariel was taken to live with her grandma who soon died. Ariel was placed in foster care and then adopted when she was eight years old by Tamsin Reinhart who was an orthopedic surgeon in Portland. She changed Ariel's name to Olivia. Olivia was lonely and scared but began acting out because of her anger. Eventually Tamsin gave Olivia up.

Olivia decides to attend her father's funeral in Medford but first stops to see her grandmother's old home. This house will be hers when she turns eighteen; Olivia receives rental income from tenants but the house has been vacant for the last three months. At the home she meets her old neighbour, Nora Murdoch who doesn't recognize Olivia. Nora was friends with Olivia's grandmother, Sharon and she tells Olivia about what happened to Sharon's daughter Naomi and her little girl Ariel. Olivia offers to take Nora to the funeral in Medford. At the service, Olivia sees pictures of her father and meets  some of her father's relatives, although they do not know Olivia is his daughter. In attendance is Sam, her father's ex-girlfriend, her Aunt Carly and her daughter, Richard Lee a friend of Olivia's father, his best friend Jason, Heather who was best friend to Olivia's mother Naomi. Olivia also meets a cute guy named Duncan, whose parents know Olivia's father. Olivia tells Duncan that she's from Seattle because she wants to keep her identity secret.

Olivia makes arrangements to rent her grandmother's house without revealing her identity, convincing Richard Lee who is the property manager she is able to pay the rent. She also manages to get herself a job at Fred Meyers. At the house, Olivia is visited by Duncan who reveals to her that he knows she is Ariel Benson. This is because of a scar on the palm of her hand due to an accident that involved the two of them when they were children. When he questions Olivia as to why she never told her family at the funeral, she denies she is Ariel and then insists that he not tell anyone her true identity. Olivia is concerned that whoever killed her parents may still be interested in knowing what she remembers and may try to find her. She is certain the killer is someone who lives in Medford.

Duncan then shows up at Fred Meyers and tells Olivia that he understands why she doesn't want people to know her true identity, but insists that she will  need his help to learn what really happened to her parents. Olivia reluctantly agrees to let him help her and together the two begin to dig deeper into what happened that day. It's only when Olivia returns to the site of the murders that things begin to heat up, placing Olivia square in the sights of the real killer.

Discussion

The Girl I Used To Be is a quick read for those who like a murder mystery. Although the story takes some time to ramp up, Henry builds to a heart pounding climax. Readers will likely be able to figure out who the killer is, but Henry rounds up the usual suspects; a mentally ill man, a former girlfriend, and a classmate whose life seemed to abruptly turn around after the murders.

Scattered throughout Olivia's first person narrative are flashbacks to the crime, but none really reveal much - as one would expect from a person who is trying to remember an event that occurred when they were three years old. Olivia is a determined, resilient protagonist who must rethink her past, her parent's relationship and how she thinks about her father whom she assumed was a murderer.  To solve the crime, Olivia in a sense, goes under cover in Medford. People don't remember who she is because Olivia left when she was a child. Her relationship with Nora, friend and neighbour to Olivia's grandmother and mother,  allows Olivia to attend her father's wake unrecognized. A touch of romance is added with the inclusion of childhood friend Duncan who is not fooled and who quickly suspects Olivia's true identity.

A good, easy read for those who like their novels short and sweet.

Book Details:

The Girl I Used To Be by April Henry
New York: Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company    2016
229 pp.


Monday, June 20, 2016

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages

"Well, there was a quote I couldn't quite recall, and I just found it.Listen." He began to read, very slowly. 'Music is the hidden arithmetic of the soul, which does not know that it deals with numbers. Music is the pleasure the human mind experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.' That's exactly what I was talking about."

Jimmy Kerrigan to his daughter Dewey as they eat lunch together, Los Alamos, New Mexico.

The Green Glass Sea is a story of family, friendship and loss during World War II. The lives of two girls, Susan Gordon and Dewey Marie Kerrigan intersect as their families are brought to Los Alamos in this narrative about the Manhattan Project and the American effort to develop the atom bomb.

The story begins in 1943 with ten year old Dewey Kerrigan being picked up on the steps of her neighbour, Mrs. Kovack's house in St. Louis. Dewey had been living with her nana but she had a stroke and had to go into the hospital. Her father is in Chicago helping with the war effort and Dewey hasn't seen him since the Fourth of July.

Dewey is picked up by friendly Corporal Margaret Beckwith who tells her that her father is no longer in Chicago but at a location in New Mexico so secret that even she doesn't know. She is placed on a train to Lamy, New Mexico and a porter is assigned to care for her. On the train, Dewey discovers there is an observation car and she takes her magazine, Boy Mechanic, and her radio set to the car to tinker with.

In the observation car Dewey meets a young man, who looks like a bum but who knows about radios. Coincidentally, the man who gives his name as Dick Feynman is also traveling to Lamy, New Mexico and he knows Dewey's father Jimmy Kerrigan. Dick tells Dewey that they will be living at a place called the Hill. When they arrive in Lamy, Dick waits with Dewey until she is picked up by Sergeant Prager who takes her to get a pass to the Hill from Dorothy McKibbin. Finally Dewey is reunited with her beloved papa who drives her to their home in Los Alamos. Her father has been sent to Los Alamos to work on creating a special "gadget" that will win the war for the Americans.

The story then jumps to August of 1944. Susan (Suze) Gordon is playing cards with her mom in their house. Suze and her mother and father, who were both professors at Berkeley arrived on the Hill in the fall of 1943. Suze's father is a metallurgist, her mother a chemist. Although eleven year old Suze wants to be friends with girls like Judy, Barbara, Betty and Joyce, she finds herself unable to break into their clique. In an attempt to win their approval, Suze tells the girls that she knows a shortcut to the Tech PX so they can get cokes.

Meanwhile Dewey who has finished a picnic lunch with her papa, decides to go to the dump for parts for her latest project. At the dump she meets her friend Charlie and his little brother Jack. Dewey is in Charlie's eighth grade math class. The boys are there looking for wood for their secret treehouse while Dewey finds copper tubing and a broken typewriter. The three help each other with their cumbersome load of "finds" and make their way back.  On their way they encounter Suze and the girls she is with. When Suze sees Dewey she ridicules her by calling her "screwy Dewey". Instead of playing with the other kids, Dewey is always working on her radio or some other project at recess. Suze's bullying of Dewey doesn't have the result she expects, as Charlie defends Dewey and even offers to buy her a coke.

A few days later, Suze's mother Terry takes her to visit a friend in another part of the Hill called Morganville. That friend turns out to be Jimmy Kerrigan, Dewey's father. When Suze realizes this she is not friendly towards "screwy Dewey".

The story then moves to March 24, 1945 with Dewey's father telling her he has to meet with General Groves and his committee who have arrived from Washington. After he leaves Dewey is visited by Suze's mother, Terry Gordon who is looking for her father and becomes interested in Dewey's "time machine". On Sunday Dewey and her father have a picnic in Bandelier National Monument. Dewey notes that her father seems very sad and troubled. During their time together he tells her that before the war he worked with a German mathematician, Josef who lived in Berlin. Before the war they "were trying to understand how the world works, and borders didn't matter. But they do now."  Now Josef and Dewey's father are in a race to solve the same problems.The General has asked Dewey's father to help them understand papers published by German scientists and this means he has to go to Washington. Terry Gordon offers to take in Dewey for the time Jimmy is away but Suze is not happy with this. When she expresses her displeasure at "Screwy Dewey" coming to live with them, Suze's mom becomes angry and tells her never to use that name again and to

Moving in with the Gordons turns out to be the least of the many challenges Dewey will face as the war moves towards its devastating conclusion.


Discussion

This was a fascinating look into life for a very specific group of people during World War II: the children of the scientists who worked on creating the first atomic weapon. The atomic bombs dropped on Japan which resulted in the nation's surrender and the end to war in the Pacific were the first weapons of mass destruction ever used. The Green Glass Sea portrays the scientists who worked to develop the atom bomb and their families as highly intelligent people who were determined to help their country win the war in Europe and the Pacific.  The scientists were the top researchers in their fields of physics, chemistry, mathematics, engineering and metallurgy. Their family circumstances were similar to those of most Americans and their children had the same problems all children face growing up.

The two main characters in the novel are two girls who do not like one another but who eventually are drawn together to form a bond of friendship. Dewey and Suze are very different yet they face a common struggle to fit in and be accepted. Dewey is brilliant and interested in creating machines. But her intelligence is not the only thing that sets her apart from the other children at the Hill: she has one leg shorter than the other requiring her to wear a special shoe and she wears very thick glasses. Suze is also highly intelligent but in a different way than Dewey: she is very artistic. Like Dewey Suze's physical appearance sets her apart from others: she is big and strong. But while Dewey is quiet and thoughtful, Suze is loud, unkind and a bully. Dewey doesn't care about fitting in but to Suze, fitting in is so important that she is willing to make fun of Dewey in the hopes the other girls on the Hill will include her.  When the two girls are thrown together when Dewey comes to live with Suze's family, Suze is determined not to welcome her in any way - she doesn't want Dewey to have the top drawers of the dresser, she draws a line across the room dividing their space in two and marks the days off the calendar that Dewey is at her house.

Dewey takes it all in stride; she feels sorry for Suze because the other girls never ask her to play. Over the span of the following two months Suze's view of Dewey undergoes a radical change.  After the death of President Roosevelt, Suze begins to warm to Dewey, apologizing for damaging her cigar box and the two girls share secrets about their names. When Dewey struggles to find the right pieces for her gadget, Suze decides to help her and in the process discovers that she can make works of art from the nuts, bolts, screws and other metal pieces Dewey has collected. Suze introduces Dewey to superhero comic books. But it is a trip to the dump to look for a drawer to hold Suze's next collage that cements their friendship. When the two girls are confronted and bullied by Barbara and Joyce they both stand up for the other. And when Dewey is orphaned Suze shows deep concern for Dewey and is determined that she continue to live with them. "If anyone had told her two months ago that she'd be asking to let Dewey stay with her, she's have told them they were nuts. But it felt right."  The two eventually form their own club, naming it Shazam.

As they get to know each other, Suze's view of Dewey changes. She recognizes that she is different just as Dewey is different but while Dewey seems comfortable with herself, Suze is not. Dewey teaches Suze to accept herself as she is. Suze realizes that she can be herself with Dewey who accepts Suze as she is. "She'd never had a conversation like this with another kid. She didn't feel like she had to be funny, or try to show Dewey how smart she was..."

Historical fiction succeeds if it instills in readers an reasonably accurate understanding of the time being portrayed. Many scientists working on the Manhattan project did not know exactly what they were working to create. Because the project was so secret, only a small group of scientists knew what they were working towards. Once the testing of the bomb was successful and the immensity of its power was realized, many of the scientists who had worked on the bomb were strongly opposed to it being used.  Klages succeeds in realistically portraying this opposition in her novel.  Dewey's father appears to recognize how powerful the "gadget" they are attempting to build will be and for that reason he hopes the Germans have not progressed as far as the American scientists.

 After the test at Trinity, and realizing the immense power of the bomb, Terry Gordon expresses serious reservations to her husband, Dick Feynman and Dr. Teller about what they have done and the possibility of using the bomb on civilians. Dewey overhears their conversation:
"She heard Dick Feynman talking, and stopped in the doorway to listen. 'Well, yes. We started for a good reason, and we've been working so hard. It was pleasure. It was excitement,' he said. 'But you stop thinking about -- you know? You just stop. And now..."
And now that we've seen what it can do. My god,' Terry Gordon said, her voice raised, sounding angry. 'They can't use it. Not on civilians. Not on anyone, for that matter. I mean, maybe as a demonstration, but--'
'That's not realistic, Terry,' said Dr. Teller in his Hungarian accent. 'It's no longer an experiment to be demonstrated. It's a weapon, to end this terrible war once and for all.'
'At what cost, Edward? At what cost? Look, Chicago's drafted a petition. If enough of us sign it, they'll have to listen, and --'

Readers learn via a short radio clip what the American government eventually decided to do and today we know that two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Klages states in the back of her novel that she chose not to focus on the bombing of the two cities because the massive loss of life resulting from the atomic bombs is very hard to comprehend and beyond portrayal. She notes that readers experience the difficulty Dewey has with coming to terms with the death of one person - her father. However, the atomic bombs killed approximately 140,000 people in the initial blast with many tens of thousands dying of burns and radiation sickness in the weeks and months that followed. Death on such a scale in incomprehensible.

The title of the novel is a reference to green glass found after the Trinity atom bomb test on July 16, 1945 near Alamogordo, New Mexico. Temperatures generated from an atom bomb explosion were so high that the sand at the Trinity test site was metamorphosed into a new rock called trinitite. Trinitite has a green colour and most of it is mildly radioactive.

The Green Glass Sea is an excellent work of historical fiction about a unique period in history. Few novels have been written for young people about the Manhattan Project and Klages has done an excellent job in making this time come alive for young readers.

Klages wrote a sequel to this novel,  White Sands, Red Menace which continues the story of Dewey and Suze in the Cold War era.

For information on the Los Alamos site, check out this webpage at Atomic Heritage Foundation.

The US History website has a page devoted to the Manhattan Project.

An article from Spartacus Educational on the ethics of dropping the atom bombs on Japan.


This video shows three different newsreels of the Trinity bomb test which happened in The Green Glass Sea.



The second video is from the 2005 PBS Special, Dr. Teller's Very Large Bomb.



Book Details:


The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages
New York: Puffin Books     2006
318 pp.