Xemilyx's Reviews > This Means War!

This Means War! by Ellen Wittlinger
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May 27, 10

bookshelves: for-the-kids
Read in May, 2010

In This Means War!, Wittlinger really connected with her setting and time period. Everything that happened to the characters and all the things they worried about seemed to arise naturally from the comic books, news casts, and town gossip that swirled around them.

The story is set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, in a small town near an Air Force Base. The main character, Juliet, lives above her family's grocery store, which is threatened by the arrival of a local supermarket. But Juliet's primary concern at the beginning of the novel is that her best friend, Lowell, no longer wants to hang out with her, because she's a girl. Soon Lowell and Juliet are both entangled in a competition between the boys and girls in their neighborhood: ten tests of skills and bravery to prove once and for all whether boys or girls are the best.

It's the kind of kids game that parents never approve of. Each test is a little more dangerous than the last, and although most of the characters are aware that the challenges don't really prove anything, they all have their reasons for participating. I related most to Patsy, an Air Force brat who wants to be a pilot when she grows up and has no romantic interest in the boys. She just wants to beat them. I think this is one way girls cope when they hit adolescence and realize that people expect them to do certain things, but not others, and gender and sex become the most salient aspects of their identity. It can be a shock for a daddy's girl and a tom boy.

Lowell, on the other hand, doesn't really want to participate, because he's more of a brain than a physically dominant boy. But he suddenly feels like he has to prove his manhood. And that's part of the initial reason he rejects Juliet. The other characters have just as interesting stories, and together they reflect the myriad responses you get from kids when adult gender roles are suddenly imposed on them.
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