Friday, August 09, 2019

Speaking Up! The Loud Silence of Francine Green by Karen Cushman

"Holy cow!" I said when Sophie Bowman told me she'd be joining me at All Saints School for Girls this year. "I got thrown out of public school," said Sophie. "It was either Catholic school or boarding school. Sister Basil thinks my soul can still be saved."

"Why?" I asked.

"That's what she learned in nun school, I suppose," said Sophie.

"No," I said. "Why did you get kicked out?"

"Oh, that. For writing 'THERE IS NO FREE SPEECH HERE' on the gym floor. In paint. Red paint."

Francine is devoted to staying mostly unnoticed at All Saints, where it was more important to stay out of trouble than to excel at learning. Sophie is devoted to fighting fascism and pursuing free speech. Francine's family is conventional, devoted to blending in, avoiding criticism. But Sophie is a risk taker, and in their unlikely friendship, Francine finds herself doing daring things like wearing her uniform beanie aslant like a French beret and skipping school to take the bus to Hollywood to spot Montgomery Cliff entering a premier.
It was eight thirty before a limousine pulled up. It was only Olivia de Haviland. I was saving my cheers for Monty.

Another limousine came. Out stepped Elizabeth Taylor, gorgeous in white mink. And behind her, standing on the same earth, in the same city, on the same block as Francine Green, was Montgomery Clift, in person. "He's looking at us!" I screamed.

Next to me, Sophie, being Sophie, shouted "Ban the bomb!"

And from Sophie the sheltered Francine learns about the McCarthy hearings and its restrictions on freedom of expression and about the Bomb, and she is shocked to see the wage earners of families she knows being accused of being Communists and fired from their Hollywood jobs. Sister Basil at All Saints says the atomic bomb will save them from godless Communism, but Sophie's dad says the H-bomb could mean the end of all life on earth.

And when Sophie's father himself loses his job at the movie studio, Francine has to make a choice--on her own.
My father lit a cigarette."The FBI has a job to do--keeping us safe. Maybe a little unfairness is a small price to pay for security."

"But, Sophie--"

"I keep telling you, you shouldn't be involved with them. It's serious business. Be quiet, do what you're told, and stay out of the way."

Francine's mom tells her it's her father's job to keep them safe. Then, after a moment, she offers to makes an extra tuna casserole for Francine to take to the Bowmans.
"Sometimes we aren't sure what we should do," she says. "Be patient with us."

And in the troubled time of 1949, Francine Green finds her own voice, in the new edition of the Newbery Award-winning Karen Cushman's The Loud Silence of Francine Green (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019). Francine Green is very much a girl of her time, a time of root beer floats and movie magazines, the time of the Cold War and Congressional Commie hunts, and the H-bomb, but she is also a universal character. Sister Pete had told her to do right and be honest and do what is pleasing to God, and finally Francine finds a way to speak up, to tell her own truth. A coming-of-age book for young adult readers in any time, this one speaks to middle graders who must begin to find their own truth and their own voices in their own time.

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