Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages (3 out of 4 stars)
If your childhood is anything like mine was, you watch a lot of television. In the 1960s and 1970s when I was growing up, sitcoms were very popular. I admit that my love of a good plot is rooted in the comfortable, candy-coated plots of The Brady Bunch, The Munsters, Bewitched, and The Jeffersons. If you like a plot that feels like a sitcom, but a reasonably good one, you will enjoy Ellen Klages’s new novel, The Green Glass Sea.

The year is 1943, and two unlikely eleven-year-old friends are thrown together, much like the Brady kids at the beginning of The Brady Bunch. The setting is the Hill at Los Alamos in the middle of the desert Southwest. It is the home of the members of the Manhattan Project, the secret group of scientists trying to build the atomic bomb before the Nazis. Dewey Kerrigan is an engineering enthusiast who loves to invent gadgets; she reads the magazine The Boy Mechanic because “‘They didn’t make one for girls’” (142). She revels in getting engineering advice from scientists Richard Feynman and [Director] Robert J. Oppenheimer himself. Suze Gordon desperately wants to fit in with the pretty, Girl Scout, hair ribbon crowd, but she’s a bit too loud, a bit too big and awkward, and a bit too pushy for the in crowd’s taste. After circumstances force them to live together, the Truck (Suze) leaps upon an opportunity to publicly mock Screwy Dewey with all of the other girls watching. Suze knocks over Dewey’s box of gadget parts and scatters them across the floor. Dewey does not know how to respond; she is, after all, small, outnumbered, and living in a military base: “She thought of a dozen things to say, and said none of them. The other girls were watching, waiting to see if anything would happen. And Dewey knew if there were sides to be taken, the girls with the jacks would, for once, be happy to pick Suze” (157). Everything is secret on the Hill, and people must find ways to live together for the duration of the war. Through many challenges, some of them due to the natural tension related to the setting of the story, Dewey and Suze forge ahead together and discover the shape and texture of true friendship.

I enjoyed this novel in the same way I used to enjoy TV sitcoms. Fortunately, Ellen Klages does not have to write brilliantly to be effective. Although she resorts to a confusing method of changing tenses near the end of the novel to indicate that the narrative has shifted to Dewey’s mind, and despite one embarrassing plot anomaly in which Suze draws a line down the center of her room to separate her and Dewey just like The Brady Bunch and a hundred others, Ellen Klages delivers a good buddy tale amidst an exotic peek into the scientific community. Like Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone Does My Shirts, in which a twelve-year-old boy named Moose must go to live on Alcatraz Island because his father gets a job there, this novel transports the protagonist(s) to an unusual place with unusual rules. Klages correctly lets the setting do much of the work of driving the story. The liner notes indicate that the author is already working on a sequel to this novel, titled White Sands, Red Menace. I am looking forward to reading about how life goes on after the war for Dewey and Suze, when they have to live together in the “real world” of civilian life.


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