Friday, August 6, 2010

This Means War: Another Cuban Missile Crisis Story

This Means War by Ellen Wittlinger is another story based during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Readers of Literate Lives know that I'm a big fan of Countdown by Deborah Wiles and now I am intrigued by the fact that this is the second book set during this time period.

Both books are well done but very different. Countdown has more of a historical feel to it while This Means War focuses more on relationships during the time. Because of this, the two books will appeal to very different audiences and that's good!

This Means War has the theme of growing up and the change that comes with it. Before fifth grade Juliet and Lowell are best friends, however, changes come and Lowell is no longer comfortable with that relationship. With the increased threat from Cuba, the Air Force base in town begins to grow and because of that, the school grows creating the need for another fifth grade class. For the first time Lowell and Juliet are not in the same class and Lowell has begun to hang out with a group of boys who don't thing boys and girls should be friends because boys can do things that girls can't. Lowell goes along, reluctantly.

Juliet makes friends with the new girl, Patsy, whose father is a mechanic at the base and is a bit of a wild show off. While Juliet is happy to have a friend, she's not comfortable Patsy's bragging and risk taking to prove she can do anything. When Patsy hears that the boys think they are more capable than the girls at just about everything, she goes over and starts challenging them.

By now, the troubled boy, Bruce, is hanging out with Lowell and his new friends, mostly because they are afraid of him. Bruce and Patsy start talking and soon an official 9 day challenge is set up between the boys and the girls. The boys seem to be all in, but two of the girls are not sure, they just want to hang out with the boys, so they take the challenge.

The challenges begin simple with a running race, hitting a baseball, and a twist off dance contest. From there the challenges begin to get dangerous, culminating in a very well written dramatic ending that even though the reader knows the story is going down a bad path, it still surprises and Ellen Wittlinger does an excellent job of bringing it all together in the end.

I really enjoyed how Ellen Wittlinger used a world event to focus on local happenings. While the Cuban Missile Crisis is the time setting for this book, the author successfully leaves it in the background, just under the surface using it throughout to stir the events of the fifth graders in this story. I really liked this book and think the fifth graders will too.

Other reviews:
Kate's Book Blog
The Picnic Basket

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