Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cold War Horror

The Year of the Bomb by Ronald Kidd (2009)

Paul and his buddies love horror movies and go to see them every Saturday afternoon, like lots of kids did in the 1950s. It's the Cold War era and in addition to the horror of films, there's the daily horror of expecting an atomic bomb to drop any second. Their social studies teacher, Mrs. Kramer, stokes their fears by telling them that good Americans should be on the watch for Communists, who are feeding secrets to the US's sworn enemy, Russia. Nearly every day she has her students practice "drop" drills--as if hiding under a desk will save them from instant vaporization. Paul's own father has a job building planes that he won't talk about, and Paul suspects it's top secret. Another boy's father can't get a job as a Hollywood sound man--he's been blacklisted because his father, the boy's grandfather, had been a union organizer and a Communist Party leader.

The boys are thrilled to learn that a horror movie, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, is going to be filmed right in their town of Sierra Madre, California. They're drawn to one of the extras in the movie, a pretty woman named Laura Burke, who's the body double of one of the stars. The boys suspect her friend Darryl is up to no good, and when they nose around, they get caught up in an investigation that includes famous physicist Richard Feynman!

The creepy paranoia of the period compels the characters, and those around them, to act as mindlessly as the pod people being portrayed in the film. The uncanny parallels between the movie under production and the Cold War insanity make this an excellent historical novel for ages 10 and up. The relatively low lexile (500) plus the high interest of the story, with plenty of action and suspense, should put this book on many elementary reading lists. Watch for it to win some awards, too!

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