The Year of the Bomb by Ronald Kidd. Grades 6-8. Simon & Schuster, June 2009. Copy provided by my local library.
(This is a 2009 Cybils nominee and this review reflects only my personal opinion of the book, not necessarily the opinion of the panel!)
The year is 1956 and it's a crazy time. Everyone fears The Bomb that could drop at any moment and destroy everything. For Paul and his friends, living in a small town near LA, the threat is very real. If the Russians bombed the United States, it would make sense that they would target a major city.
The bomb's not the only threat. Everyone knows that Communists are creeping in, spying on Americans and taking secrets back to the Russians. They could be everywhere. They could be anyone.
Paul and his friends love to be scared - that is, they love horror movies. Aliens? Gargantuan apes? Monsters? Sign. Them. Up. So when they discover that a new horror film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, is being filmed in their hometown, they start hanging around the film set and befriend one of the young actresses. But the threat of Communism is here as well and when Paul gets involved in investigating a certain suspect individual, he quickly finds that he's gotten more than he bargained for.
This is one of my favorite historical periods to read about and Ronald Kidd really brought it to life. Gone was the cohesion and can-do attitude of early 1940s America. Suddenly there was this bomb, this terrible weapon unleashed on the world, and no one was sure what was going to happen. The paranoia of the time is evident throughout the book.
So the historical setting is great, but Kidd creates a compelling storyline as well. What kid wouldn't be fascinated by a movie being filmed in his back yard? In the 1950s Paul and his friends have the freedom to follow the production team around as they shoot in different places, which is something that today's kids might love to do. Underlying that story is Paul's struggle with his father, a secretive man who refuses to talk about his job. Paul feels completely cut off from his father, but he comes to understand that there's a reason for the secrecy.
I found the book fascinating and I think my seventh-grade self would have found it fascinating, too. The writing and the details really inspired my curiosity about the events and people in the book, not in a I-wish-there-had-been-more-detail way, but in a this-is-totally fascinating way. And OH YES there is an author's note.
Pair this book with The Green Glass Sea and White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages. And then go out and find Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Or you could just watch this trailer: