Another of the fabulous new historical fiction novels recently received by the New Hope Library, Countdown by Deborah Wiles is the first of a proposed trilogy of documentary novels set in the 1960s. I loved this first installment partially because it reminded me so much of growing up in the sixties (although I’m not quite old enough to actually remember the Cuban Missile Crisis) and partially because it was just a fabulous story.
It’s 1962. Franny’s father is a major in the Air Force and is stationed at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C. Her family lives off base, and she and her brother attend the local community school. Tensions between the United States, the Soviet Union, and Cuba are running high, to the point where the school actually practices for the possibility of a nuclear attack. Not only does Franny have to deal with her saintly younger brother (who seemingly does no wrong) and worry about the secret her college age sister is keeping, her Uncle Otts who lives with the family is now trying to build a bomb shelter in their yard! Furthermore, her best friend has become her worst enemy, and Franny doesn’t understand why. When it is discovered that the Soviet Union is supplying nuclear missiles to Cuba and that Washington, D.C. is a primary target, things just go from bad to worse.
Told in first person, from Franny’s point of view, the story is rich in detail with pages of primary source documents inserted to give the reader a real feel for the period. Like Kenny from The Watson’s Go to Birmingham, Franny is a great storyteller and character. Despite living during one of the most tense periods in American history, Franny retains her sense of humor. She’s quirky, a great fan of Nancy Drew, has issues with her kid brother, hates to be embarrassed in front of her friends, has a crush on her neighbor — a regular kid of the times. I felt that I was living the story with her. If you like historical fiction with a dose of humor, I think you will enjoy this novel.
Check out what author Deborah Wiles has to say about Countdown.
The incredible visual elements included in the book make this an extremely interesting read, but the audio is out of this world. The soundbites that are included really bring the documentary portions of the book alive. It would be great fun to listen to the audio while reading /seeing the primary source material. For example, here is a video of President Kennedy’s address to the nation about the discovery of Russian missiles in Cuba that play a prominent role in the book.
Author: Deborah Wiles
AR BL: 5.4
AR Points: 8.0
Recommended: Grades 4 and up
Discussion Guide To Countdown — Discussion starters for Countdown