“There are always scary things happening in the world.
There are always wonderful things happening in the world.
It’s up to you how you are going to approach the world….
How you’re going to live in and what you’re going to do.”
“Jo Ellen Chapman”
It’s October 1962 and John F. Kennedy has just gone on television to warn the American people that the Russians have missiles in Cuba that can strike as far as Montana. Eleven year old Franny Chapman is living in a world of duck and cover and trying to make sense of the changes in herself, in her family and in the world at large. Franny feels invisible. Her teacher has skipped her three times in class when going around the room for people to read aloud. At home her older sister Jo Ellen has her door closed and is reading some secret letters in crisp white envelopes. Franny’s little brother, Drew, or Saint Drew as she thinks of him, is clutching his book about atoms and dreaming of going into space like his hero John Glenn, a man of great character. Franny isn’t perfect. She’s willing to lie when necessary to protect herself and she’s willing to steal (letters) from her big sister’s hope chest when her curiosity gets the upper hand. The stealing gets her into big trouble. It’s a place she’s pretty used to being in as things never seem to turn out exactly as she’d planned. This time her “best” friend Margie Gardener is turning on her and is using the letters to lure the new girl, Gale, into being her new best friend. Along side Franny’s struggle is the constant rhythm of her Air Force father going away on trips and her Uncle Otts seeking safety and redemption whether it’s by digging a bomb shelter in the front yard or calling the family members Private and requiring salutes at various moments in the day or night. He’s not all there and he’s haunted by the moment his brother died in his arms in the war. “I killed him,” he says in a moment of utter despair. Franny’s voice is clear and faltering. She’s really finding her way through this month of her life. Between chapters is a blend of news, photographs, song lyrics and other memorabilia of the sixties. They serve to deepen your sense of the setting and the turbulence of the times. If you lived through these times, you’ll be transported back. If you haven’t lived through these times, you’ll feel as though you did. This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. Put me in mind of To Kill a Mockingbird for some reason. I guess the voice of Franny was just that good. 400 pages
COUNTDOWN by Deborah Wiles, Trailer by Sandy Noles of Denton, Texas