Wednesday, December 22, 2010

COUNTDOWN- Deborah Wiles

I remember three things about sixth grade:
1) Mr. Meyers read aloud to us every day after lunch. I remember HUCKLEBERRY FINN and WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS.
2) We sat in order from best reader in the class to worst. Bill O. and I dueled every week for chairs #1 and #2. Joe R. sat in Chair #31 all year long.
3) Every day, Mr. Meyer regaled us with stories of nuclear destruction- how many pounds of uranium it would take to destroy the world, how many were actually in existence, etc.

I identified, then, with Frannie Chapman, the main character in COUNTDOWN by Deborah Wiles. Frannie and her family, which consists of her Air Force pilot father, her mother, a college age sister, a third grade brother, and an uncle who fought in WWII, live at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington D.C. The book is set at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, so besides the typical sibling rivalry and best friend quarrels, Frannie and her classmates and family are sure they are about to be annihilated in a nuclear war.

COUNTDOWN goes beyond the typical historical fiction novel, however. Deborah Wiles calls the book a "documentary novel." Interspersed throughout the text are all kinds of different documents-- black and white photos of world leaders like Kruschev and John F. Kennedy, song artists and lyrics, covers and pages from Civil Defense manuals, etc. The book is a plethora of images that contribute enormously to the "flavor" of the book.

As I read this book, I couldn't help but think of all the recent discussions of books as a dying genre. COUNTDOWN, with its combination of words and images, felt a lot like surfing the web. I think Deborah Wiles has set a new standard for historical fiction (and I can't wait to read the next two novels in this series).
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