THE GADGET by Paul Zindel


Age Range: 11 - 13
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Fast-paced and thought-provoking, though lacking the emotional resonance of his earlier work, Zindel gives young readers a taste of what life would have been like for a child living in a top secret American military base in the closing months of WWII. Twelve-year-old Stephen is curious—so curious in fact that he can’t help but try to discover the nature of the special hush-hush project his physicist father is deeply preoccupied with at Los Alamos’s technical lab. Readers will know immediately what Stephen does not, that his emotionally distant father is working on the development of the atomic bomb. With the help of an older boy, whose Russian father works for the military as a trainer of guard dogs, Stephen begins to investigate his father’s secret mission. Zindel captures the paranoid us versus them mood of the period, and his authoritative descriptions are vivid and feel authentic. The novel also convincingly encapsulates the moral and emotional ambivalence of the men working on the project. In the book’s most disturbing moment, Stephen’s father tells him that he never considered “how it [the bomb] might be used,” or how he and his fellow scientists would feel “when it was taken out of” their “hands.” The rather perfunctory climax manages to generate some suspense, but is too heavily foreshadowed to surprise. While this is not Zindel’s best writing, by cleverly intertwining fiction and fact, his distinctly atmospheric tale breathes life into an exceptional moment in American history. (chronology, important people, sources) (Fiction. 11 -13)

Pub Date: March 31st, 2001
ISBN: 0-06-027812-9
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2000


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