Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Review: The Green Glass Sea

Ellen Klages's The Green Glass Sea is one part historical novel, one part coming-of-age tale, and one part fish-out-of-water story. As a whole, The Green Glass Sea is an intelligent, thought-provoking novel for kids ages 10 to 15.

Ten-year-old Dewey Kerrigan's grandmother has had a stroke, and Dewey is sent by train to her father. Her father is a scientist, employed in top-secret work during World War II. Dewey thinks she'll be headed to Chicago, her father's last location as far as she knew, and is surprised when she discovers her train is headed to New Mexico. And, soon, Dewey finds herself living in crummy army housing on the top-secret Los Alamos base.

Dewey is instantly happy in Los Alamos. She's the type of girl who likes to build mechanical objects and is thrilled to find a dump with discarded metal pieces of all shapes and sorts. Her school is also good: she's allowed to take high school math, even though she's just 11 years old. She's finally living with her father and enjoys taking care of him after his long days at the lab.

In a parallel story, 11-year-old Suze is having a hard time adjusting to the base. Her father also works on the top-secret project and so does her mother, peripherally, as a "stinker" (chemist). She tries to make friends with the other girls on the base, but it's to no avail. They find Suze not girly enough and too large, calling her "Truck" behind her back.

Suze and Dewey's lives collide when Dewey's father is summoned near the end of the war to Washington D.C. Dewey's father arranges for Dewey to stay with Suze and her parents (the Gordons) while he'll be away. At first the girls dislike each other actively, but Dewey's at least relieved because she likes Mrs. Gordon, as a female scientist, immediately.

I won't give away any more of the plot, but suffice it to say the girls become friends and allies at a time during which all of Los Alamos is worried about a "gadget" and the gadget's success. The Green Glass Sea is a fascinating novel about about World War II, scientists and their families in the years leading up to the bomb, and the universal struggle to find your place in a new, highly unique community.

Dewey and Suze are great characters, both outsiders in their own way. Give The Green Glass Sea to a smart reader today. I'm handing my copy over as soon as the school bus arrives.