Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book Review: Countdown by Deborah Wiles

Deborah Wiles
Published: 2010
Middle Grade Historical
“The secret to not being afraid is to understand what scares you.”

I picked up Countdown in my search for YA historical set in the 1960s and didn't realize this was actually a middle grade book (so, still looking for 1960s-set YA!). The story details the experience of 11-year-old Franny during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. It was interesting to see an event like this through a child's eyes. In school, Franny and her classmates practice drills to "duck and cover" in case of a nuclear attack. Now, it's not lost on me that if a nuclear bomb went off, ducking under a desk isn't going to do much. The drills bring up a lot of questions for Franny, but the adults in her life don't want to talk about it. Her mother wants to shelter Franny and her younger sibling, which is understandable, but given the instruction she gets at school about air raid sirens and potential attacks, it's compeltely realistic that she would be terrified and have nightmares.

Interspersed with Franny's anxiety over the drills is regular trouble at school - the girl she thought was her best friend doesn't seem to like her anymore. Her live-in uncle is acting strange; he has PTSD but Franny doesn't know that, and she just sees him as a hurting man who occassionally relapses into a soldier role from a past war. Her older sister is spending more time at her college campus and Franny feels abandoned by her sister's absence.

I listened to the audiobook, and the audio format takes advantage of sound clips and music montages from the time period. There are chapter interludes about famous figures of the early 1960s as well, so this book has a lot of educational merit to it. I'm not used to reading middle grade, so the pacing and development of the characters is a little slower. Countdown encapsulates the era and shows how much a world event like the Cuban Missile Crisis can affect kids who supposedly don't understand. It was definitely an interesting read.  

Note: This is the first book in The Sixties Trilogy. Books two and three have not yet been published.


  1. I'll keep an eye out for a 60's era YA for you! Do you think COUNTDOWN would be a good book for a nine-year-old? I'm always looking for books for my son.

  2. Maybe; the main character is a girl and I know sometimes boys are put off by that (and strangely, girls will still read about boys). The educational slant might make it feel more like a school assignment, although some kids are fine with that, too.

  3. Just to let you know...

    I gave you a blog award this morning.
    Thanks for all your great posts.


  4. i've been curious about this one--i rarely have the patience for boomer nostalgia, but deborah wiles is a hometown girl (one of her kids was in my brother's class all thru elementary school).


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