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 This debut novel has its moments, but reliance on clichÇ characters keeps MacInnes (the 1987 Nelson Algren Award winner) from fully exploiting a unique setting and some intriguing ideas. In 1946 LeeAnn, a nine-year-old Army brat nicknamed Lucky, is living on Kwajalein Island in the Marshalls with her family when her father, Jack, becomes set on their witnessing the atomic tests on nearby Bikini. Her mother, Matty, is less keen on the idea, but dad insists that they be present at what he believes to be the central event of his time. Narrator LeeAnn and her ten-year-old brother, Bubba, do see the blast (Bubba photographs it, intent on selling his work to Life magazine); afterwards, Jack begins diving for contaminated items from a ship that could not be freed of radiation. Jack and his relationship with Matty are boilerplate material: He's an alcoholic military man too stubborn to ask anyone for help, and she's the angry wife who married him because ``at that time any man in a uniform was A-OK and service life meant travel.'' The real gems here are the bits of information about atomic testing and the American government's treatment of the island natives and its attitude towards nuclear testing in general. MacInnes, who lived on Kwajalein from 1956 to '57, returned more recently to research this book, and her work is evident. Natives who returned to the island in 1957 forever after referred to that time as ``the year of the animal'' because the children born then didn't appear human, and islanders who had been downwind from the blast were made to bathe in a lagoon each morning in order to ``wash off'' the radiation. Teenage LeeAnn has an unconvincing romance with a man 14 years her senior, who leaves a lasting impression, and she then goes on to outlive her entire family, although once she leaves the island the novel loses much of its flair. Fine local color and dark secrets that are ultimately too fragmented.

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1995
ISBN: 0-688-08001-4
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1994