Four starred reviews greeted this new, groundbreaking classic from Deborah Wiles!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.It's 1962, and it seems that the whole country is living in fear. When President Kennedy goes on television to say that Russia is sending nuclear missiles to Cuba, it only gets worse. Franny doesn't know how to deal with what's going on in the world--no more than she knows with how to deal with what's going on with her family and friends. But somehow she's got to make it.
Wiles heads north from her familiar Mississippi terrain (Each Little Bird That Sings) for this "documentary novel" set in Maryland during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Eleven-year-old Franny, a middle child, is in the thick of it her father (like Wiles's was) is a pilot stationed at Andrews Air Force Base. Wiles palpably recreates the fear kids felt when air-raid sirens and duck-and-cover drills were routine, and when watching President Kennedy's televised speech announcing the presence of missiles in Cuba was an extra-credit assignment. Home life offers scant refuge. Franny's beloved older sister is keeping secrets and regularly disappearing, her mother's ordered household is upended by the increasingly erratic behavior of Uncle Otts (a WWI veteran), and Franny's relationship with her best friend Margie is on the brink as both vie for the same boy's attention. Interwoven with Franny's first-person, present-tense narration are period photographs, newspaper clippings, excerpts from informational pamphlets (how to build a bomb shelter), advertisements, song lyrics, and short biographical vignettes, written in past tense, about important figures of the Cold War/Civil Rights era Harry S Truman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Pete Seeger. The back-and-forth is occasionally dizzying but the striking design and heavy emphasis on primary source material may draw in graphic novel fans. Culminating with Franny's revelation that "It's not the calamity that's the hard part. It's figuring out how to love one another through it," this story is sure to strike a chord with those living through tough times today. Ages 9 12.