This is a semi-autobiographical book about an eleven year-old girl, Franny Chapman, living outside of Washington D.C. during the Cuban Missile Crisis....moreThis is a semi-autobiographical book about an eleven year-old girl, Franny Chapman, living outside of Washington D.C. during the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Deborah Wiles also lived outside of Washington D.C. when she was eleven and during the Cuban Missile Crisis.) It is the first of three in the "Sixties Trilogy."
This book has a very unusual format. It's been called a "documentary novel" because interwoven throughout the story are little reports on the Presidents, popular culture, and issues of the time. And every so often the story will be interrupted by a series of media excerpts. It kind of felt like little commercial breaks with newscasts: quotes from political figures, pieces of songs, LOTS of pictures, reminders to "duck and cover."
I LOVED the concept, and I hope to see more historical fiction written this way. It was a very good way of giving the reader another view into the story's world. I felt like I was living the Cuban Missile Crisis right along with Franny.
The story could have stood alone without all of this, however. Deborah Wiles really painted life for an eleven year-old, and helped me remember what it felt like to be eleven...even if I didn't live in fear of a bomb being dropped on my world:
I remembered being SO ANGRY when I fought with friends. I remembered feeling shame and disgrace before a parent when I'd done wrong. I remembered vying for acceptance among my grade-school peers. I remembered wanting to please a teacher. I remembered wanting to be just like my older sister.
The story is full of all the ups and downs of the beginning of Franny's fifth-grade life. And you actually see the Cuban Missile Crisis through her eyes-not an adult's eyes. I think it is very real-to-life how a child would have perceived the threat.
**spoiler alert** Written from the perspective of a thirteen year-old girl, Eliza, in late nineteenth century Crescent City, California. Eliza lives o...more**spoiler alert** Written from the perspective of a thirteen year-old girl, Eliza, in late nineteenth century Crescent City, California. Eliza lives on an island with her parents and helps them run the lighthouse. (Interesting historical fact-this is the Battery Point lighthouse in Crescent City. The characters are fictional, but the lighthouse is not.)
Many residents of Crescent City want the Chinese out. Eliza begins to question the prevailing prejudice when she makes friends with a young Chinese boy. She must stand up for what she knows is right, even if it means standing up to her own father.
I thought this book was so well written and with so many layers. First of all, the lighthouse and island life were so intricately described...I could tell the author did her research. As a reader, I could love the island with Eliza and all its wildness and storms and unpredictableness.
In a way, the island kind of parallelled Eliza's life at that time. The sea was tempestuous just like the townspeople and there wasn't a whole lot she could do to affect the outcome of campaign against the Chinese...other than stand (like an "island") for what she believed was right.
And the lighthouse was God because this was also a story about Eliza's coming into her faith by her own right, and not leaning so much on the faith of others. SPOILER: There is a beautiful scene at the end, in the lighthouse when Eliza knows that God is listening.
Eliza's father is among the townspeople that do not want the Chinese in Crescent City, and she struggles with reconciling the father she loves -and who is a good man- with the father who is prejudiced.
SPOILER: Eliza's mother has a miscarriage. In a way, I saw this book as pro-life. Eliza saw the unborn child. Eliza sought out the doctor and asked him to show her the graveyard where the unborn children were buried. Eliza refers to the baby as her "little sister," and the baby is eventually brought back to the island and buried.
In the end, the family makes a sacrifice which is sad, but beautiful, too. And right. It ended just how it should end.(less)