Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Review: Countdown by Deborah Wiles

Author: Deborah Wiles
Publication: Scholastic Press; 1 edition (May 1, 2010)

Description: It's 1962, and it seems everyone is living in fear. Twelve-year-old Franny Chapman lives with her family in Washington, DC, during the days surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. Amidst the pervasive threat of nuclear war, Franny must face the tension between herself and her younger brother, figure out where she fits in with her family, and look beyond outward appearances. For Franny, as for all Americans, it's going to be a formative year.

My Thoughts: What a truly amazing book! I liked the documentary aspect of the book with pictures and news stories from the time. The song lyrics and quotations from the time really made the story immediate. I liked that all the song quotes and the pictures were identified in the Photos section in the back of the book.

I liked Franny and thought she was a realistic 11-year-old. She was concerned about nuclear war but she was also concerned with changing friendships and changing relationships in her family. She was embarrassed by her great-uncle Otts who was a soldier in World War I and who is now very concerned with civil defense and building a bomb shelter. She is worried about her father who is in the Air Force now. She is a typical middle child. She admires her older sister Jo Ellen and is irritated with her younger brother Drew. She calls him Mr. Perfect. She is nervous because something is going on with Jo Ellen that has put her at odds with their mother. Naturally, a nosy little sister who really admires Nancy Drew tries to figure out what is going on. Descriptions of the early days of the Civil Rights Movement give us a hint about what Jo Ellen if involved in even though Franny doesn't figure it out.

The whole subject of the Cuban Missile Crisis and what it did to the people in the United States is very well described. Franny, like her fellow students and the teachers, are very worried about nuclear attack. They practice Duck and Cover drills like students today practice lockdowns. Students today can identify with Franny both in her fear and in her desire to grow up. She is eager to attend her first boy-girl party and is crushing on the boy next door.  The issues in this story are universal.

I think the book is well-written and the characters realistic. I recommend this book to middle graders and high school students who want to know what life was like in the early 1960s. For me, it was a step back to my childhood. I felt that Deborah Wiles was telling my story. My first and favorite 45 was Johnny Angel. Franny liked it too (even if she did think Del Shannon was better.)

Challenges: 2010 YA Reading Challenge, RYOB Reading Challenge, In the Middle Reading Challenge 



  1. I'm about a quarter of the way through this book and really enjoying it. I feel for Franny when it comes to her Uncle! Can't wait to get all the way through it. And I agree - I really like how things from that time are included throughout the book. It really gives a flavor of that time.

  2. Ooh, this book looks SO interesting!!!

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