Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Book Review: White Sands, Red Menace

White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages. (Grades 6+)

It's 1946. They used the Bomb. And suddenly the world is a little more complicated.

Dewey Kerrigan's world is a little more complicated, too. After her father was killed in a car accident, she moved in with her friend Suze Gordon. When the war ended, they moved from The Hill to the small New Mexico town of Alamogordo. And life should be getting back to normal, right? But Dewey's constantly worried that something might happen to take her away from the Gordons - they don't have legal guardianship, after all - and the Gordons are the only people that she can depend on.

Suze has problems of her own. Since Dewey moved in, it's been great living with her best friend, but she's worried that science-minded Dewey is taking her mother's affection. And when she makes a new friend from the Spanish-speaking side of town, she learns that there are prejudices all around her.

Ms. Klages has done an excellent job of capturing the feel of the late '40s - that budding paranoia, the sense that everything's changed and nothing is as safe or easy as it was before. Most of the story is told in vignettes that cover August 1946 through May 1947. I typically don't care for that type of presentation, so it's a testament to Ellen's writing that I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

I loved The Green Glass Sea, so it was great to revisit the characters of Suze and Dewey - best friends that are so, so different. As I read, I sat back and took in the detailed desciptions of 1940s New Mexico. The book's worth reading for the setting alone. I honestly felt like I was there.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ellen Klages and hearing her speak passionately about the research she did for these books. I completely trust that everything's as accurate as she could possibly make it, which makes for absorbing reading. I especially liked this story because, as Ellen points out in her author's note, it's set in a time that often gets skipped over. In college, I took a class on post-war America and I've always been fascinated with this time period. It's so great to read about it in such a detailed and well-researched novel.

In short, I loved White Sands, Red Menace and I can see myself rereading this book in the future (which is something I almost never do). If you're looking for fantastic historical fiction, look no further. Highly recommended. (Um, you'll definitely want to read The Green Glass Sea first.)

Read more reviews at Jen Robinson's Book Page, A Fuse #8 Production, A Patchwork of Books, Oops...Wrong Cookie, and bookshelves of doom (among others). Check out Ellen's website and if you do get a chance to hear her speak, do it!