Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “A Girl's Guide to Missiles: Growing Up in America's Secret Desert” as Want to Read:
A Girl's Guide to Missiles: Growing Up in America's Secret Desert
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

A Girl's Guide to Missiles: Growing Up in America's Secret Desert

3.36  ·  Rating details ·  689 ratings  ·  126 reviews
A poignant, surreal, and fearlessly honest look at growing up on one of the most secretive weapons installations on earth, by a young woman who came of age with missiles

The China Lake missile range is located in a huge stretch of the Mojave Desert, about the size of the state of Delaware. It was created during the Second World War, and has always been shrouded in secrecy.
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published August 14th 2018 by Viking
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about A Girl's Guide to Missiles, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about A Girl's Guide to Missiles

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.36  · 
Rating details
 ·  689 ratings  ·  126 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of A Girl's Guide to Missiles: Growing Up in America's Secret Desert
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This book is about the author's childhood in the Mojave Desert while her parents worked designing missiles at China Lake. It's also about civilian vs military life, fundamentalism, and how much of childhood can be held on to. I enjoyed some funny descriptions of Eugene and Oregon weather from the perspective of someone accustomed to desert climate. I got a little bogged down in the middle but appreciated how so many topics come back around in the end, with one big surprise.

I had a funny moment
I am very familiar with China Lake. I found this book interesting about growing up on the China Lake Naval Base. Piper’s parents both were scientist working on the base. Piper tells of her life as a child growing up on the base and as an adult working on the base. I was disappointed that Piper did not go into detail about life as a child in a small, closed and structured community.

The book has quite a bit of humor. Overall, I was disappointed in the book. Maybe because I also grew up in the area
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was ok
---- Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. ---

So, firstly I just want to say that I don't understand why people think this is a book about missiles. It says right there in the title that it is about growing up. Sure, it's about growing up in a particular place, but it unequivocally states that this is a book about "growing up." Honestly, if it had been a book about missiles I'd have been quite irritated at having been mislead. I signed up for a memoir, & that's exactly what

Aug 21, 2018 rated it did not like it
Very few books make me angry but A Girl's Guide to Missles by author Karen Piper angered me enough that I quit reading her book. I returned her book to Amazon due to Piper's poor research and due to the book's poor editing.

I have a deep understanding of China Lake history and how China Lake operates. China Lake was founded by the United States Navy during World War II. Today, China Lake supports national defense through research and development. A little known fact is China Lake's role in devel
Matt Hiebert
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
No, this is not a textbook about military ordinance. For me, A Girl's Guide to Missiles is a story about “emergence.”

It is the memoir of a woman coming of age in the 80s, rising out of a barren culture of inflexible religion within the desert setting of China Lake, one of America's foremost weapons development facilities.

The story begins with Piper as a child, relocating from the Pacific Northwest to the hardscrabble of a southern California military base. She is close to her mother. Her sister
Mar 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
I received a free copy of this e-book from the publisher (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

2.5 Stars

I wanted this book as soon as I saw the title. If I ever wrote a book about my passion for Cape Canaveral, I would have used that title. By the end of the book, I felt the title was used because it sounds good, not because it accuratly reflects what happens in the book.

I am fascinated by the history of missile test sites, especially the oldest ones which emerged in the 40's and 50'
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as indicated by my four-star rating (equivalent to most reviewers' five-star ratings, since I reserve five stars for recognized classics). I was in the Air Force many years ago and was stationed in Southern California, so I am quite familiar with the landscape the author describes. I also grew up in a Christian fundamentalist household, so I could relate to those experiences as well, although like the author, I am no longer religious and in fact haven't been since ...more
Readable, slightly meandery memoir. The author grew up on the China Lake Station in California during the Cold War, where both her parents worked in weapons development. The parts of the book about this strange milieu and about her parents were especially interesting, as was the part about her sojourn at a downright disturbing private Christian school, where the children silently completed booklets in cubicles. Lost its way a little in a thicket of romantic relationships and a failed marriage (w ...more
Jan 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
A surreal and honest look at growing up on one of the most secretive weapons installations on earth, by a young woman who came of age with missiles. The China Lake missile range located in the Mojave Desert was created during the Second World War, and has always been shrouded in secrecy. People who make missiles and other weapons are regular working people, with domestic routines and everyday dilemmas, and four of them were Karen Piper's parents, her sister, and—when she needed summer jobs—herse ...more
Oct 06, 2019 rated it liked it
In reviewing Dr. Karen Piper’s, A Girls Guide to Missiles I cannot judge the factual content in her recollections of growing up at the US Navy research facility at China Lake. Instead I will take her at her word that this is intended to be her recollections and not a recitation of history. There may be a distinction between autobiography and what she has written, but I have no reason to doubt her intention to share her impressions without the necessity to confirm particular facts. To doubt her p ...more
Apr 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Perhaps 4 stars worth of enjoyment, but only 3 based on comprehensive, coherent delving into specific topics. I always enjoy memoir non-fiction, as a personal perspective provides "story" in addition to information. I liked the behind-the-scenes look at weapons development from the late Viet Nam War era onwards, and would have liked even more detail than we got. Not sure how much that limitation was due to the classified nature of some of the missile programs being discussed, or just in the inte ...more
Jul 23, 2018 rated it liked it
My feelings about this book seem to echo most of the reviews that have already been written for Goodreads. This is a fine coming of age memoir about a woman who happened to grow up in China Lake, but it is not a book about China Lake. What she shared about "America's Secret Desert" was interesting, as was her fundamentalist Christian schooling (horrifying is probably a better descriptor than interesting in this instance), but overall the book fell a bit flat for me.

I received an ARC from NetGall
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A coming of age like you've never read before. Imagine growing up living on the China Lake Missle Range. I was riveted by this story. Truely a remarkable read.
Dawnny-Book Gypsy
Novels N Latte
Book Blog
Andrea Olson
Sep 05, 2018 rated it did not like it
If you want to learn anything about China Lake, this is NOT the book for you.
Just some hippy chick talking about her life, which has minor overlap with China Lake, but she talks more about Eugene Oregon college life than the base.
Aug 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was an advanced readers copy, that I recieved through the Goodreads Giveaways. I might not have bought this book, if I hadn't won it, but I would have missed out on a sometimes funny, sometimes sweet, and sometimes sad, description of growing up in a place where every life is spent building bombs to wipe out our enemies...from WWII to Korea to Vietnam to Afghanistan and beyond. Karen describes a childhood of secrets learned and kept; of the love (and barely disguised fury) between siblings, ...more
The Folding
Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
At its core, Karen Piper’s memoir “A Girl’s Guide to Missiles: Growing up in America’s Secret Desert” is about war. However, it’s not just about military warfare and the weapons used to wage it, developed in the laboratories in California’s China Lake Desert where Piper’s parents worked and raised her and her sister. Pairing keen childhood observations with contemporary thoughts on the way the world has shifted since her adolescence, Piper crafts a fresh, intimate perspective of America’s bigges ...more
Dec 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Piper grew up in China Lake, CA, in the Mojave Desert where her parents worked on missiles. She describes growing up in the shroud of secrecy, trying to accept life’s dangers in the presence of missiles, the awareness of existing and impending wars, the mishmash of politics that influence the community, and the adjustment to life outside of the protected enclave. She talks about boyfriends, marriage, divorce, her father’s descent into Alzheimers, and life with her mother in recent years includin ...more
Oct 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Solid memoir.

Covers some fascinating topics, including missiles. What I found most interesting was how a "Reagan Girl" grew up and changed her spots. Worked well for me as an audio book and the writing was quite beautiful.
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I checked this out of the library on a whim, and read it immediately. Karen Piper's story of growing up at China Lake, and being an unwitting part of the military industrial complex is beautifully told, and frightening. ...more
Sep 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting book
Jackie Mcgrath
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It's so good. Read it if you have parents, or a sister, or an interest in the history of military/technology. Read it for a well-told story about a family and a country. Read it because there is far more to it than missiles. Or girls. ...more
Kathleen Gray
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is very much a coming of age memoir with some details about China Lake, not a memoir about China Lake. Karen Piper has an interesting background, with parents who worked in the missile business (for want of a better description) and who had a strong religious bent. Her experiences with evangelism and struggle to move beyond that belief system, as well as her various relationships, form the bulk of the story. Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC. This is a good read but not for the reasons I'd ho ...more
Bruce Thomas
Apr 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Good nonfiction meeting my desire to learn something I previously knew nothing about. This one describes growing up in Death Valley where Navy jobs developing and testing missiles were located. Author continued into her adulthood outside China Lake/Ridgecrest, where she was conflicted with her growing knowledge of the outside world and her fairly strict and isolated Christian upbringing.
Dec 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Have you ever read a biography or a memoir and decided you did not like the subject? Well in this case I think the author is a dork. First for the good stuff. I love the way she describes the desert. She obviously loves it. I worked at China Lake for 12 years and lived in Ridgecrest for 2 more years after I retired and I worked for the Navy at a sister base before that so I knew some of the history she wrote about. I contacted my former coworkers for their opinions and one had even contacted Liz ...more
Michelle Boyer-Kelly
The first half of the title may imply that this is going to be a book entirely about missiles, but if you read the second half of the title--which includes 'growing up'--you will realize that this is a memoir. Once I learned this was a memoir, as I'd randomly borrowed it from the public library as an audiobook to listen to while working, I was a bit bummed but decided to give it a go anyways. A memoir would be a good break in my normal non-fiction reading/listening and I figured Piper would stil ...more
Jul 03, 2018 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this ARC. I wish the author had gone into a bit more detail on life at China Lake. As soon as she became a teenager there was far too much about her various relationships with men. None of which were interesting. I would also have liked to learn more about her academic career. For the most part, her parents were to me, by far the most interesting characters in this memoir. A lot less of Karen and a lot more of her parents please. This is a pleasant book, don't look for anything profoun ...more
Mar 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
It took me a several chapters to figure out what disturbed me about this book. It isn’t the poor fact-checking that so many other reviewers who have lived in this area felt compelled to critique. Having read some reviews prior to starting this book, I ignored the glaring errors and decided to look upon this as Karen’s memoir, her reality of a place and time that may not ring true for the reader (that lived there at the same time), but it belongs to her. So with that in mind, I started the book. ...more
Jenny Karraker
Sep 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Having grown up in the same time frame that this author writes about, I identified with many of her observations about the nuclear arms race. It was funny to see the competition between her and her sister about their summer jobs and who had the most secret clearance. It was interesting to hear her process her strict, religious background, something that seemed important to her deep down at a spiritual level, yet became just a set of rules that she abandoned, not something that met her deeply per ...more
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this memoir. I thought it was an interesting juxtaposition of war and religion in the author's life. I related to her religious upbringing and enjoyed the history of weapons her family made and then living with the effects of making technology and then having no control over the use.

Thanks to Edelweiss and Penguin Publishing Group for the digital ARC.
Oct 20, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Bummer of a memoir. Dysfunctional family relationships, dysfunctional work relationships, constant foreshadowing of worse to come. Read first third, skimmed the rest (because book club).
« previous 1 3 4 5 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Jane's Stories: Johnson Award Nominee: A Girl's Guide to Missiles 2 10 Aug 31, 2019 01:16PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Family Gene: A Mission to Turn My Deadly Inheritance into a Hopeful Future
  • Silverswift
  • Charter Schools and Their Enemies
  • Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms
  • The Emptiness of Our Hands: 47 Days on the Streets
  • Guesstimation: Solving the World's Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin
  • The Billionaire's Apprentice: The Rise of The Indian-American Elite and The Fall of The Galleon Hedge Fund
  • Eden's Shadow
  • Infidel (Bel Dame Apocrypha, #2)
  • Life Ever After
  • The End of October
  • The World According to Tom Hanks: The Life, the Obsessions, the Good Deeds of America's Most Decent Guy
  • The Daughters of Yalta: The Churchills, Roosevelts, and Harrimans: A Story of Love and War
  • Introduction to Mathematical Thinking
  • The Eudaemonic Pie
  • Black Boy Out of Time
  • Complexity: A Guided Tour
  • African American Athletes Who Made History
See similar books…
See top shelves…

Related Articles

  Walter Isaacson, it’s safe to say, is not afraid of tackling the really big topics. In 2011, he wrote about our ubiquitous computer culture...
109 likes · 20 comments
“I am going to live for the color of grass. I am going to keep living because of that” 4 likes
“Books were faithful and reliable. You could pack them up and put them in a box, run your hands over the spines, flip through their pages full of memories. They always came with you, wherever you went.” 1 likes
More quotes…