Countdown Book Review

Countdown by Deborah Wiles

Franny would do anything for her life to be peaceful, but with the threat of nuclear war on America's doorstep, a feuding friendship, a shell-shocked Uncle, and a missing sister, Franny's life is anything but peaceful.

Part autobiography, part documentary, Countdown reads like narrative history and catches the essence of what it would be like to be a child in such a tumultuous time. Franny lives every day of her life afraid that this one will be her last. Will the Soviet Union bomb them today? Will she live to grow up or will her life be cut tragically short just like her Uncle's little brother?

My first memory outside of my own little world was when I was eight. I watched mesmerized as the Berlin wall was pulled down piece by piece. I had a million questions and my parents sat beside me, tears in their eyes, as they explained this weird terrifying world we live in. Deborah Wiles grew up during the beginning of that Cold War. Her first memories were of the fear of those times and in some strange way, I can relate. Except my parents were forthcoming with information and poor Franny is often left completely out of the information loop. As it stands this is really Deborah's story. Although Franny and her family are fictional it is clear that this is the author's time period. This is what she remembers. And by making a character to close to herself and her memories, the reader has a character they can relate to.

My only real criticism or perhaps question is the necessity of the essays of the different people throughout the book. They read like book reports written by Franny, but it felt too much like teaching and threw off the timeline sometimes since the essay would follow the historical figures far past the time portrayed in the book. I liked being rooted in 1962 and felt that the essays pulled me out of it.

Among my favorite parts of the book were the visual references with quotes, pictures, and speeches surrounding the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The story itself was engaging although really nothing terribly important happened. It's not really an adventure story, it's history and I can probably assume that it was some great therapy for the author. The book doesn't preach (except for the last page) and Ms. Wiles allows her young readers to figure some things out for themselves.

Although I think young readers will enjoy this book, I can't help but wonder if the children who grew up in this era, now grown with children and grandchildren, would enjoy it more. An opportunity to relive those moments through someone else's eyes and a reminder of how precious life and living it, is.