Monday, May 26, 2014
Having heard nothing about Fallout prior to stumbling upon it at the bookstore, I'll admit that I was first drawn to the cover art. There's definitely something to be said for catchy design, even on a middle grade novel.
Set in the Cold War-era NYC suburbs, eleven-year-old Scott Porter is quite aware of the threat of nuclear war. His father is the only one on the block constructing a bomb shelter, much to his mother's annoyance, and rightfully so. In Strasser's reimagined 1962, nuclear war is not averted, and Scott is awakened one night by his frantic father and quickly ushered into the shelter. What follows is a tight narrative of the family's two weeks in the shelter. Scott's father only built and stocked the shelter to accommodate their family of four, not the extra six people that force their way inside during the chaos. The adults bicker and snap at each other, privacy is impossible, one of the adults is racist, and supplies, including food, run low almost immediately. The story of their time in the shelter weaves with flashbacks of the months immediately preceding the nuclear bomb's explosion to give you character development and a sense of history.
Despite the fact that the group suffers greatly during their time in the shelter, and the book is quite descriptive of these sufferings, the story is told from Scott's perspective and is very much appropriate for upper elementary to middle school ages. I was a bit less than thrilled with one character's lack of moral compass. He encourages Scott to drink, steal, look at Playboys, and he's obsessed with breasts. For that reason I wouldn't recommend Fallout to kids under 11. However, the 1960s fear surrounding the Bay of Pigs Invasion and nuclear bomb threat from Russia is noticeably missing from children's historical fiction, and this novel does that time period justice.
You can find Fallout in the Middle Grade Books: Historical Fiction section of The Book Children Store.