Nick Black's Reviews > Dear Mr. Henshaw

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
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Jun 08, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: read-as-child, read-multiple-times, unlikely-to-acquire
Read in January, 1987 , read count: over a dozen

This cunningly-woven allegory of the Cold War's nuclear buildup is simple and gripping enough for children to understand, if a bit fleshless. Our adolescent narrator, one Leigh Botts of California (both an immediate reference to Harvard President and Interim Committee member James Bryant Conant and a deep frappe indeed to the testicles-or-vagina of Bridge to Terebithia's androgynous lead character), devoid of a father figure (the waning British Empire, their ocean-spanning fleet here captured in Botts Senior's beet-trucking service), has his lunch repeatedly stolen (bombed) by unknown (presumed Japanese, un-interred and dangerous) students or perhaps external forces (Rome-Berlin Axis, spreading spectre of Bolshevism, Reverse Trilateral Commission, etc). Ms. Botts strikes an elegant and delightful, at times even eerie, Kittie Oppenheimer throughout. Leigh launches an all-out crash program to develop an alarm system (note the reference to Teller's "Alarm Clock" (failed) layered thermonuclear device, prior to the Teller-Ulam application of reradiation, plasma and finally ablation), sparing no expense (a jowly local electronics store owner's a passable cameo for General Leslie Groves). Finally, with the weapon system complete, Leigh flies a bus we may as well dub the Enola Gay to school...only to find that, as the sole remaining hyperpower, his defenses have become his undoing. We dream of a world without the threat of nuclear extinction and shed a tear as Leigh opens his lunchbox, assaulting friends, foe, and self with literally hundreds of millipascals of acoustic overpressure in a scene that disturbingly anticipates the 9/11 incidents and perhaps also steroids in baseball.

Let Leigh Bott's alarm be an alarm for all of us.

There was also something about butterflies, the details of which I've forgotten. Maybe that was just Jurassic Park. Anyway, doesn't matter, a classic tale of love in the chivalric era.
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02/11 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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karen shit you just made me remember that i read this. but i missed all that subtext. what a stupid 11 year old i was!

message 2: by Nick (last edited Jun 17, 2009 08:02PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nick Black karen wrote: "shit you just made me remember that i read this. but i missed all that subtext. what a stupid 11 year old i was!"

"The next day, the lunchroom rang out with the sounds of alarms -- more than one kid, it seemed, had copied Leigh." more than one kid my eye they had a whole table of Young Comintern over there with Klaus Fuchs teaching electives in long hair, dope, and advanced theft of nuclear secrets.

but, admittedly, Cleary plays it subtle; this isn't scott o'dell beating you over the head with monetary policy, Bretton Woods and Nixon's withdraw from the gold standard in Island of the Blue Dolphins or a simple discussion of cat mutilation ala One-Eyed Cat. this is the woman whose Mouse and Motorcycle, after all, will leave pundits guessing for centuries...

(my opinion? the Mouse is Oliver Cromwell cast as a modern leader of New Labor, while the Motorcycle refers to both Blessed Mother Teresa Agnesë Gonxhe Bojaxhi of Calcutta's Missionaries of Charity and, in general, Balkan troubles along with the Crimea. Christopher Hitchens digs it anyway)

Chelsea Bashore This is hilarious.

Nick Black Chelsea wrote: "This is hilarious."

:D thanks. give it a like; it feels lonely!

Chelsea Bashore Done! :)

Nick Black you're the best! :D

Nick Black Dakota wrote: "I find that people often see a lot of things that are not present. Decent review, I didn't care to write anything of value."


Johnny Bahahaha.

Nathan Can you do more like these? I'd love to hear your opinion of the scathing critique of laissez-faire capitalism in "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie".

message 10: by David (new)

David Not "hardly," Dakota. "Not hardly." Stop making mistakes.

message 11: by Mykea (new) - added it

Mykea Williams stopppp doin that

message 12: by Jill (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jill :-D I'm feeling so dull and un-literary after reading this review. Must dig deeper . . . or not.

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