Set in October 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis is a backdrop for this story of fifth graders in a California neighborhood near a local military base.Juliet and Lowell had been best friends ever since she could remember, but suddenly Lowell is surrounding himself with guy friends only.Juliet feels left out and hurt. Military rotations at the base bring in a new girl, Patsy, brash and daring, who befriends Juliet, but the sting of abandonment gnaws at Juliet.Even the addition of boy-crazy Annette and Linda into Juliet’s circle of friends is less than satisfying. One of Lowell’s new “friends” is the trouble-maker Bruce.His chauvinistic attitudes, while repugnant to Juliet, are fightin’ words to Patsy. The two groups decide to face off in a boys-against-the-girls challenge of “anything you can do I can do better” which escalates into serious consequences.
This book works to create an analogy between the international crisis and the “war between the sexes.”Juliet’s character is deeply disturbed by the nightly news reports and daily duck and cover drills.More conflict roils in her life as her father, the owner of a small neighborhood grocery store, does battle against the incursion of a supermarket.Juliet’s mother is a working mother in an era in which this situation is not common.Juliet wishes for more maternal comforting as she deals with her lingering grief at her grandfather’s death, the Cuban missile crisis, a condescending sister, the loss of her childhood friend, questions as to God’s existence, and her family’s monetary concerns.Whew – it all sounds as if it would be an overwhelming combination for a middle grade reader, but Wittlinger deftly manages to keep Juliet afloat.The strength of this story is the realistic portrayal of kids becoming enmeshed in raising the ante, in this case challenging the other side (boys v. girls) to “beat this.”Peer pressure, the fear of not being able to say “no” is presented well.I do end with some words of caution.Juliet’s father Don has an explosive temper and uses some mild expletives (I think I counted three times.).(Does it make it less offensive if spoken by an adult?) Additionally, Juliet’s spiritual questions are not fully resolved by the book’s end. Ages 10-13 220 pages
Recommended by Kate Stehman, Librarian.
1.It's October, 1962, and Juliet Klostermeyer is frightened.The news is filled with stories that say the United States and Russia are getting closer to war.Her parents fight more and more because their grocery store is losing business to the new supermarket outside of town.And her best friend, Lowell, is now hanging out with a group of boys who think that girls are useless.When Juliet and her new friend, Patsy, challenge the boys to a series of tests to prove that girls are just as good as they are she thinks of it as a way to get back in touch with Lowell.But when the tests become increasingly dangerous, Juliet finds herself involved in a war of her own - a war she doesn't know how to end, and one she isn't sure she'll survive.A beautiful coming-of-age novel set during the Cuban Missile Crisis.-- Steven Nabinger, Librarian