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Stuff for the Teen Age, Biblio File

Countdown by Deborah Wiles: A Review

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Imagine being 11 years old and worrying every day that the world might end.

This is the very real fear that Franny Chapman, an army brat, deals with every day. She goes from frustrated that her teacher won’t call on her in class to horrified when the air raid siren starts blaring. It’s the summer of 1962 and America is about to enter what will eventually be called the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Franny doesn’t know a lot about what’s going on; she just knows that her father is being deployed again and she is stuck with her overbearing mother again. She knows she'll never be like her “perfect” little brother. Usually it’s her older sister that reassures her everything is going to be okay, but this year she’s off to college and has made a bunch of new friends who have their own ideas about politics. Franny’s uncle, a World War II veteran with an “eccentric” personality, is also not dealing with the threat of nuclear attack very well. When he starts to behave strangely, Franny doesn’t know what to do. She also has to contend with a backstabbing friend and the boy next door who has just moved back in town… the boy she happens to have a hopeless crush on.

Countdown is a unique novel by Deborah Wiles. The author did extensive research into the book, and it includes several photographs, advertisements, and quotations directly from 1962. Many young adults may not know the story or rhyme of “Bert the Turtle” and how he taught a generation of students to duck and cover, but that is the very thing that this novel opens with. It’s a historical fiction at its greatest, deceptively educating the reader about this period in U.S. history while telling an entertaining story with a compelling protagonist and well developed supporting characters. Countdown will be the first in a trilogy of books about the sixties. I, for one, cannot wait until the next book in the series.

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