Strasser once again combines terrific suspense with thoughtful depth when the bombs really do fall in this alternate-history Cuban missile crisis thriller.
Eleven-year-old Scott’s family becomes the laughingstock of their neighborhood when, worried about possible nuclear attack, they build a bomb shelter. However, when the Civil Defense siren sounds, sending them to the shelter, they can’t keep their neighbors out, even though they have enough food for only their own family. In chapters that alternate between their time in the shelter and the weeks leading up to the attack, the story reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the characters. Scott and his friend Ronnie, the rather nasty neighborhood smartass, continue their friendly rivalry in the shelter, while their parents reveal much about their own personalities. The book examines racism; when Scott’s mother becomes so seriously injured that it seems she will not survive, their neighbor wants to put both her and the family’s black maid out of the shelter to die. The author peppers the narrative with tidbits from the early ’60s, such as Tang, MAD magazine and talk of “Ruskies,” “Commies” and duck-and-cover school drills. Scott’s believably childlike narration recounts events and adults’ reactions to them as he understands them.
This riveting examination of things important to a boy suddenly thrust into an adult catastrophe is un-put-down-able. (Thriller. 10-14)