THE YEAR OF THE BOMB

Ever-so-aptly billed “Stand By Me meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” this multilayered historical novel features a quartet of quarrelsome—but loyal in the crunch—13-year-olds responding to the anxieties of the McCarthy-era Cold War. Being horror-movie addicts, Paul and buddies Oz, Arnie and Crank are over the moon when the crew filming the abovementioned SF classic-to-be sets up in their small California town. Better yet, the four hook up with a beautiful extra, an FBI agent who claims to be investigating the filmmakers for Communist connections—and a troubled young scientist named Richard Feynman, whose odd behavior and chancy friends lead the lads to the exciting suspicion that he’s a spy. Kidd folds in good measures of comic relief and period detail, separates fiction from fact in an afterword and lets his characters develop in credible ways. He also gives Paul plenty of food for thought about the hazards of rushing to judgment, of taking people at face value and, most profoundly, of living in a pervasive climate of fear—all decidedly relevant topics for today’s readers to mull, too. (Historical fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: June 9, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4169-5892-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2009

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FEVER 1793

In an intense, well-researched tale that will resonate particularly with readers in parts of the country where the West Nile virus and other insect-borne diseases are active, Anderson (Speak, 1999, etc.) takes a Philadelphia teenager through one of the most devastating outbreaks of yellow fever in our country’s history. It’s 1793, and though business has never been better at the coffeehouse run by Matilda’s widowed, strong-minded mother in what is then the national capital, vague rumors of disease come home to roost when the serving girl dies without warning one August night. Soon church bells are ringing ceaselessly for the dead as panicked residents, amid unrelenting heat and clouds of insects, huddle in their houses, stream out of town, or desperately submit to the conflicting dictates of doctors. Matilda and her mother both collapse, and in the ensuing confusion, they lose track of each other. Witnessing people behaving well and badly, Matilda first recovers slowly in a makeshift hospital, then joins the coffeehouse’s cook, Emma, a free African-American, in tending to the poor and nursing three small, stricken children. When at long last the October frosts signal the epidemic’s end, Emma and Matilda reopen the coffeehouse as partners, and Matilda’s mother turns up—alive, but a trembling shadow of her former self. Like Paul Fleischman’s Path of the Pale Horse (1983), which has the same setting, or Anna Myers’s Graveyard Girl (1995), about a similar epidemic nearly a century later, readers will find this a gripping picture of disease’s devastating effect on people, and on the social fabric itself. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-689-83858-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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GETTING NEAR TO BABY

Couloumbis’s debut carries a family through early stages of grief with grace, sensitivity, and a healthy dose of laughter. In the wake of Baby’s sudden death, the three Deans remaining put up no resistance when Aunt Patty swoops in to take away 12-year-old Willa Jo and suddenly, stubbornly mute JoAnn, called “Little Sister,” in the misguided belief that their mother needs time alone. Well-meaning but far too accustomed to getting her way, Aunt Patty buys the children unwanted new clothes, enrolls them in a Bible day camp for one disastrous day, and even tries to line up friends for them. While politely tolerating her hovering, the two inseparable sisters find their own path, hooking up with a fearless, wonderfully plainspoken teenaged neighbor and her dirt-loving brothers, then, acting on an obscure but ultimately healing impulse, climbing out onto the roof to get a bit closer to Heaven, and Baby. Willa Jo tells the tale in a nonlinear, back-and-forth fashion that not only prepares readers emotionally for her heartrending account of Baby’s death, but also artfully illuminates each character’s depths and foibles; the loving relationship between Patty and her wiser husband Hob is just as complex and clearly drawn as that of Willa Jo and Little Sister. Lightening the tone by poking gentle fun at Patty and some of her small-town neighbors, the author creates a cast founded on likable, real-seeming people who grow and change in response to tragedy. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-23389-X

Page Count: 211

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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