Format: uncorrected proof
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5
Genre: historical fiction
What did you like about the book? It’s 1953 and Richard lives with his family in suburban DC in a neighborhood near to FBI Director Herbert Hoover, his father’s boss, Vice President Richard Nixon and various senators. The Rosenbergs have just been executed for treason; McCarthyism is on the rise and it’s a dangerous time to be a free-thinker in America. Richard is a bookworm and fairly friendless, so when a new family moves to the area with a boy his age, he is thrilled. Vladimir’s father works for the State Department, his mother is from the Czech Republic and lost family members in the Holocaust; his sister is in college at UCLA and somewhat radical. Vladimir and Richard become fast friends, sharing books, music and an interest in girls. Richard is eager to please his father, however, and lets his imagination run wild with thoughts that Vladimir’s mother may actually be a “pinko;” will he tell his father and possibly betray his friendship? I loved Richard’s spunky little sister Ginny who aspires to be a journalist and charms the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy with ease in the book; I would have loved to see more of her. I also enjoyed the photographs and historical interludes between each chapter, which firmly ground the book in its time period. Individuals from every profession were affected by the Red Scare and the reader gets a better understanding of McCarthy’s full impact from this book. I found reading about this time period very interesting; I learned a lot and the 10+ page Afterword was very instructive, as well. The lesson of the McCarthy era is a prescient one for today; in a time of great fear of Communism that fear was exploited to discriminate against others. I think students could draw interesting parallels to politicians of other time periods who have capitalized on people’s fears.
Anything you didn’t like about it? The book’s chapters are each separated by a month’s time so at times the narrative felt choppy. I was also bothered by the fact that Richard’s parents are referred to by their first names, Don and Abigail, throughout the book. Despite the fact that the book is not written in first person, it is definitely mostly from Richard’s perspective.
To whom would you recommend this book? Students interested in learning more about the red scare time period will like this book. Fans of Deborah Wilkinson’s books Countdown and Revolution will like the format of this book; another good readalike is The Paper Cowboy by Kristin Levine.
Who should buy this book? All middle schools; it is a time period that is infrequently written about and instructive for our times.
Where would you shelve it ? historical fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Not at the top.
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Laura Gardner, Dartmouth Middle School, Dartmouth, MA
Date of review: July 28, 2017