Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Big War: The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages

I just finished reading a book which I feel is worthy of a Newbery.

A very impressive first novel, it is Ellen Klages' , The Green Glass Sea, set in Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project's culmination during World War II. The story begins as Dewey Kerrigan waits on her neighbor' front steps for her father to take her to live with him. Dewey's mother has abandoned her, her grandmother with whom she lives has gone to the "Home," and she finds herself with her small suitcase, a cigar box of metal parts, and her precious copy of "The Boy Mechanic," being sent across the country to the top-secret scientific community where her father is now helping develop the atomic bomb. Dewey is named "Screwy Dewey" and shunned by the cliquish girls at school, partly because of her weird orthopedic shoe, but mostly because of her fondness for scrounging in the community dump for scientific paraphernalia to use in her various inventions.

The second main character is Suze Gordon, likewise ignored by the clique because of her size and bossy ways. Suze is uncomfortable in Los Alamos and longs to return to Berkeley, where her parents were university professors. As Dewey and Suze find themselves unwilling roommates when Dewey's father has to testify in Washington, they gradually discover common ground, with Dewey learning to love Suze's superhero comics and Suze visiting the dump with Dewey to scrounge metal objects for her art collages. Suze defends Dewey against the other girls and learns that she, too, has a cruel nickname, "Truck."

When Dewey's father is killed in a Washington traffic accident, Dewey runs away in fear of being sent to an orphanage, and Suze and her family realize that she has a place with their family forever. Together the family visits Trinity, the site of the Project's detonation, to touch the "green glass sea" formed in the desert at ground zero. As they drive away, Suze switches off the radio just as the announcer begins his report on the bombing of Hiroshima. Klages poignantly ends the novel with peace between the girls juxtaposed against the awesome and terrifying interposition of a deadly weapon of war.

At first I found the ending unsatisfying. We are left knowing what the characters, wrapped in their happy family cocoon, don't know, their love and hope for the future inconsequential in the face of what that beautiful sea of green glass portends. After some thought, though, I see that that is the way it is--some personal good experienced in a world of fearful doubt in which a happy ending can't yet be written.

The characters are so well realized that the I visualized them vividly as the story unfolds, and the friendship which grows between the two very different girls develops naturally out of the plot and setting. The story is both rooted in its place and time and universal. This is a great read for children between 9 and 12!



  • Ah, The Boy Mechanic - you know that it's a real book, still available as a reprint.

    Many, as a you biy I loved what Popular Mechanics was then...

    By Blogger KG2V, at 8:28 PM  

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