It's been a week since I finished reading Deborah Wiles' most recent book, Countdown, and I'm still thinking about it. That doesn't happen often to me.
To quote a bit of the flap copy: Franny Chapman just wants some peace. But that's hard to get when her best friend is feuding with her, her sister has disappeared, and her uncle is fighting an old war in his head. Her saintly younger brother is no help, and the cute boy across the street only complicates things. Worst of all, everyone is walking around just waiting for a bomb to fall.
The book takes place in October,1962. I was in 6th grade then. JFK was president. The civil rights movement was underway. And the Cold War was in full swing--schools held "duck and cover" drills (I remember at least one "go home" drill--really smart thinking on the part of the school administrators...), you heard talk about bomb shelters, and the sign of a black circle with yellow triangles, that designated a shelter, was a familiar one. And for thirteen days that October, during the Cuban missile crisis, people wondered if those shelters were going to be necessary.
To be honest, I can't remember today the atmosphere of fear of those days. But this book brought back so much to me. Strewn throughout the book are ads and photographs from then, and bits of news reports, and even song lyrics. I don't think I've ever seen a book constructed like this. It grabbed me and pulled me right in--or, perhaps I should say, right back.
I think that one of the parts that moved me the most told about folk singer Pete Seeger--about his growing up and his discovery of folk music--the songs of the people; why he joined the Communist party as a young man and what happened when he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Having begun a lifelong love affair with folk music myself in junior high school, I knew much of what Deborah writes here. But what I didn't know until I read it here, late at night by the glow of my itty-bitty book light--was what he wrote on his banjo after the courts acquitted him: "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender." I read those words, and thought of all the songs this man has sung, all the causes he's sung and spoken for, all the people he's sung with and inspired to sing--and I wept.
Emotion. This is what happens with Countdown. You don't just read a good story (and it is a wonderful story). If you're old enough to remember those days, memories come flooding back. If you aren't, you'll come away with a feeling in your gut--an understanding of how it felt to live through them.
Countdown is the first book in a trilogy. I'm already impatient for the second (hurry up and write, Deb!).
(I purchased my copy of Countdown from Amazon, but I am not an Amazon Affiliate. And the fact that the author has been a friend of mine for approximately fourteen years (!!) has in no way influenced my opinion of this book.)