Tuesday, November 9, 2010

REVIEW: Countdown

Wiles, D.  (2010).  Countdown.  New York:  Scholastic Press.

377 pages.

Appetizer:  The first book in the Sixties Trilogy, Countdown is set in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis and when Americans were certain that at any minute the Russians would bomb the U.S.  Franny is an eleven-year-old with her hands full.  As the middle child, she often feels ignored by her parents and teachers.  Her big sister, Jo Ellen is keeping secrets from her.  Her Uncle Otts is having trouble remembering that he's not a soldier anymore and she's not certain that her best friend Margie wants to be her best friend anymore.  Plus, her crush, Chris, has just moved back into the neighborhood.

Wiles refers to Countdown as a "documentary novel."  That seems as fitting a term for it as any.  Surrounding the chapters of Franny's story are posters, song lyrics and biographical sketches of major figures from that time period.

When I first picked up Countdown to read, I was a little nervous.  It is a thick book, my friends.  Did I have time for this?  The energy?  Then I opened it and was greeted by pages and pages of images, newspaper headlines and quotes.  I was reminded of Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a 540-page long picturebook.

Also, as a random note:  Here's a picture of a boy that looks a lot like Hugo.  How fun is that?  Brian Selznik, when will you immortalize me in a masterpiece?

Apparently the boy's name is Max and he wasn't cast for the Hugo movie.  Oversight!

Internetz:  Brain!  What are you supposed to be doing?
ShelBrain:  *sheepish*  Reviewing Countdown.
Internetz:  Don't you think you should be doing that then?
ShelBrain:  Fiiiiine.

Countdown is more text heavy the Hugo Cabret of course.  As a reader, I did find myself tempted to skip over some of the biographical sketches (I know I would have when I was eleven), but I remained strong.

About 100ish pages in, I had a child-like reaction to the book.  (AKA juvenile!)  My inner 10-year-old boy reared his wee pimple-free head.  (I don't mean to imply I actually am part boy.  Rather, I often react to books like a young male reader.)  My inner ten-year-old rebelled, saying "Deborah Wiles!  You're trying to trick me into learning!  I don't like to be tricked!  There are too many words!  What happened to the pictures!  I want more pictures!  I like being able to skip through ten pages in under a minute!  Bring the pictures back or I'll stop reading!!!!!!"

I stopped reading the book for over a week.  I was frozen.  Dead in the water.  With sharks circling and me clinging to a piece of drift wood, weeping and praying for rescue.

I suspect that most readers don't have the problem I had.  Most reviews of Countdown have been so sparly, glowy that you have to wear sunglasses just to read them.  I think I wound up with skyscraper-high expectations, when I should have been expecting to be able to enjoy a nice two-story suburban home.

(I have no idea where that housing metaphor came from.  I think all the talk of the housing crisis has finally invaded my brain synapses.  Or other brain anatomy stuff.  Oh, science.

Despite the fact that the book didn't meet my expectations, I was still surprised by the world Wiles created.  I couldn't believe the lack of privacy Franny had throughout the story.  There was also this scene where Franny mentions that some of the students actually brought her teacher apples.  My response was, Really?!  Really?!  ...how come nobody give me gifts.

Dinner Conversation:

"I am eleven years old, and I am invisible.
I am sitting at my desk, in my classroom, on a perfect autumn afternoon--Friday, October 19, 1962.  My desk is in the farthest row, next to the windows" (p. 16).

"It's the air-raid siren, screaming its horrible scream in the playground, high over our heads on a thousand-foot telephone pole--and we are outside.  Outside.  No desk, no turtle, no cover.
We are all about to die" (p. 21).

"What's worse:  your best friend doesn't feel like your best friend anymore, or the whole neighborhood thinks your family is an embarrassment?
Or maybe it's worse that you wouldn't acknowledge your uncle, Franny.
Maybe I'll just stay here, hidden behind the bush, forever" (p. 45).

"Nobody asks about my hard day," I say.  I apply Jo Ellen's red lipstick thickly to my thin lips.  "Nobody even cares that I was stuck outside during the air-raid drill and everybody panicked and cried and bled to death.  But no...that's not important in this family, because I'm not important.  Daddy hardly said two words to me today, but he plays a whole ball game with Drew" (p. 84).

Tasty Rating:  !!!

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