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

3.4  ·  Rating details ·  197 Ratings  ·  47 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
Rating details
Sort: Default
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
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

Mar 19, 2018 rated it liked it
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'
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Karen Piper won awards for writing on water and climate issues, but in A Girl's Guide to Missiles, she delves into her past to try and make sense of her present. She had hit a point in her life where a trip down memory lane would help her make sense of why she is where she is, why she thinks as she does, and make sense of several mysteries that have bugged her for years.

Piper frames her biography with a trip back to China Lake Research Base to visit the petroglyphs found in the desert with her
Ask Mor
Aug 20, 2018 rated it liked it
I knew of the NAWS China Lake installation as a child in the 1980s only because my great uncle worked and lived on base as an electrical engineer. Little did I know I would end up there as an adult when my husband's military career would lead us to the Californian desert. 

I enjoyed reading about those things that are exclusively "Ridgecrest" and military base China Lake. Those things that are local land marks that are still here today. And the familiarity of the places, street names and local th
Aug 27, 2018 rated it liked it
For my personal taste, I would have given this 2 stars - but, gave it 3 thinking about other readers.

I'm starting to realize that I prefer my memoirs more focused and thematic (David Sedaris, Ariel Levy, Augusten Burroughs, and The Glass Castle). The thing about these types of memoirs...the titles of their books really set you up for the theme of the book. Even The Glass Castle, which walked you through a lot of lifespan was anchored in the parent/child relationship. You don't get all of the de
Oct 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
I liked much of this book, and a few parts not so much. I liked learning about the culture of China Lake and the surrounding areas, as well as the jobs people had with various factions of the military there. I very much enjoyed reading about the environment in the desert - the animals, flora, fauna, etc.

I wasn’t crazy about her years as a bohemian hippie, but that speaks strongly to the idealism, activism, and idiocy so many young adults acquire when they go away to college. Unfortunately, she
Oct 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
This coming-of-age memoir has an unusual setting: the restricted and secret military base one mountain range west of Death Valley. China Lake is where the U.S. put the finishing touches on the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan, and then developed missile technology. Karen moved there at age 7 in the early 1970s when her father was laid off from Boeing and found work there. Soon her mother joined the workforce, and then Karen and her older sister found summer jobs as soon as they were 16 and in high ...more
Aug 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: womens-studies
A Girl's Guide to Missiles: Growing Up in America's Secret Desert (Hardcover)
by Karen Piper
from the library

heard the au on Fresh Air on the radio:
Yeah, you say that math was considered women's work at the base. Why is that?

PIPER: Well, it's interesting. It was considered clerical, you know, that you have, like, a little calculator and that's what, you know, women do, things like that. But then these calculators gr
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
Aug 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: library, memoir
Karen spent her childhood in the "base" housing at China Lake. The civilian employees (of whom she was a part) were housed across from the military personnel. Her parents worked on missile components during the 50's. Karen herself ended up working in the same area for a while as a teenager. There was much humor interposed with her telling of her time there and afterward. Her life was not that different from most growing up during that era of anxiety of what the future might bring. I do not reca ...more
Oct 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
I liked the early part of the book, about China Lake. As someone who spent a 27-year career working at aerospace companies, I could relate to the utilitarian buildings, gray metal desks, and classified areas that you can't enter. I loved the Gerber machine story. I have made Gerbers for rocket avionics...the procedure now is: choose "Create Gerbers" from the drop down menu at the top of the screen. After the Gerber files are created, send them to the PWB fab shop. No more least on the ...more
Diane Quimby
Some reviewers who actually lived around China Lake complained that it was not "accurate"...well, I view memoirs as memories, not hard fact, and that is the beauty of memoirs. The beginning of the book is written from a young girl's impressions of her childhood in a place that is REALLY different from where most people grow up, including me. I had recently driven through this area on my camping trip to Death Valley and I am drawn to research the landscape as I pass by...I ask A LOT of questions ...more
Aug 26, 2018 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was pretty great! It's a little inconsistent - the middle section, which focuses on her adolescence and early adulthood is the best - but it's fascinating both as a memoir and as a look at American history, particularly of the military during the Vietnam War and the Cold War. Some of the chapters are so beautifully crafted that they could easily standalone.

I love narrator Rebecca Lowman, and this is a nice fit for her - the humor is dry, her slightly slower pace is right on for Karen, who i
Oct 27, 2018 rated it liked it
This book promised to be of particular inerest if you grew up in the 60s / 70s and enjoy reading about the development of cold war military toys. However it is mostly about Piper's life story and adventures both on and off of the China Lake range. She started it as fiction -- but changed it to non-fiction while admitting it was difficult to reconstruct everything without some editorial license. It is not a technical book. It was entertaining enough for 3 stars....
Lois Sittu
Sep 20, 2018 rated it liked it
My review reflects the opinions of many of the readers that rated it three stars. It is not a book that grabs you at the beginning and makes you want to read just one more chapter and before you know it it is getting light outside. Many times I had to read one of my other books and then come back to this one.
Oct 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a great memoir with an interesting perspective: growing up a daughter to parents who work at a secret military base. She does a wonderful job describing live in that desert and the area's unique climate, topography and wildlife. If anyone ever wondered what life is like in the Mojave desert, this is a book that I would recommend.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
“I realized I was still caught between two worlds. I missed the idealism and even the redundancy of home, the little routines of my father's, like throwing his keys in the air, and the way my mom's smile could make the whole world forget its worries...” 0 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.” 0 likes
More quotes…