Friday, December 6, 2013

How do you weigh a person's pain?

I've read a number of books about the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan to end the Second World War and it still fascinates me.  The Lost Peace argues that – in retrospect – it was a mistake, while Retribution makes the case that because of the way Japan started and fought the war, they basically got what they deserved.  Hiroshima tells it from the perspective of the Japanese while Enola Gay gives the plane crew's experience.  Pandora's Keepers is interesting in that it gives the conflicting perspectives of those who envisioned and built the bomb.  Perhaps Shockwave tries the hardest to give both sides of the story, although none of them can be said to be truly impartial.  But I was a little surprised at the emotional punch packed in a little YA historical fiction novel.

Everything in twelve-year old Hazel's life is shaken up in Where the Ground Meets the Sky by Jacqueline Davies.  Not only is there a war going on in 1944 but she and her mom have moved from New Jersey to New Mexico where her dad is working on a secret project for the government.  He's one of the "fizzlers" (physicists) but there are lots of "stinkers" (chemists) as well, and secrecy seems to be the overriding rule everywhere – especially with all the army people.  They don't even have a real address; they just live behind barbed wire and chain-link fence in a remote place called "the Hill".  Nevertheless, Hazel doesn't know what "the gadget" is that her dad and the others are working on but she's very smart and has been taught by her parents to approach a problem rationally and weigh all the alternatives.  But she's also smart enough to know it could end the war and can recognize important people like Enrico Fermi and Niels Bohr.

I had a rare Saturday afternoon while the whole family was away and planned to get so much done... until I started this book and couldn't put it down!  Ms. Davies has written a fascinating novel of a kid's life at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, and as far as I know it is historically accurate.  Hazel is much smarter than her peers, but she's also perfectly likable to the reader and otherwise acts like a normal twelve-year old.  Unfortunately, she's also dealing with a very abnormal situation as her hard-working father is consumed with his work and her pacifist mother sinks into depression.  But the book is also very beguiling because – although I know perfectly well how the war ended – it's so well-written that I felt like I didn't see it coming.  What was both a very charming and compelling read turned suddenly quite sobering at the end.  This really is an excellent book with likable characters and does a good job describing this period of history, but as a parent I might want to be there when my child finishes reading it just in case they have questions.  (I received an advance copy of this book from Amazon Vine.)

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