Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Middle Grade Audio Review: The Green Glass Sea


Title: The Green Glass Sea
Author: Ellen Klages. Read by Julie Dretzin
Publisher: Original hardback Viking Books for Young Readers, 2006 (324 pages). Audio by Recorded Books, 2007.
Source: Library (digital resources)

Publisher's Summary: 
It's 1943, and eleven-year-old Dewey Kerrigan is en route to New Mexico to live with her mathematician father. Soon she arrives at a town that, officially, doesn't exist. It is called Los Alamos, and it is abuzz with activity, as scientists and mathematicians from all over America and Europe work on the biggest secret of all--"the gadget." None of them--not J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project; not the mathematicians and scientists; and least of all, Dewey--know how much "the gadget" is about to change their lives.
[Note: I'm not sure where the summary on Goodreads came from, but probably not the publisher--it is poorly written and has spelling errors! Don't let this put you off.]

My Review:
This is an excellent piece of historical fiction. There is, of course, a certain fascination to the setting and situation--it hasn't been that long since we were able to know much about what went on in Los Alamos, and few historical pieces I've seen have much about the lives of the children there. The author appears to have done her research well, and the town comes to life for the reader. But this is also a good story, about family, friendship, and fitting in, and the characters are the most important thing.

In fact, the book really ends up being the story of two people: of Dewey first, but also of the almost equally mis-fitting (is that a word?) Suze Gordon. Through these two characters the author gives us food for thought about the different ways kids think and grow--and how hard kids are on each other when they don't conform. [As an aside, I sometimes almost feel sorry for "normal" kids, because most of the books give them a bad time! True to form, the girls who are just interested in fun and boys and looking good come off pretty poorly here.]

The writing is good, with vivid descriptions of Los Alamos and the surrounding country. The author also seems to be experimenting a bit. The opening chapter, and one other later chapter, are written in the present tense, while the rest of the book is in the past tense. The effect, though it was odd at first, largely works (at least in the audio version). The use of present tense brings extra immediacy to a couple of key moments in Dewey's life, and makes the reader feel more a part of her feelings.

Julie Dretzin does an excellent job with the narration, voicing the characters in ways that sounded right to me, in keeping not only with age and gender, but with their natures. Production qualities are high, though I heard a little noise here and there.

Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction and those interested in a little different view of WWII. Ages 10+, though younger kids may also appreciate it and they won't suffer any harm.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Green Glass Sea out of my (digital) library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  

For those who'd like to see more of what the area looks  like, I have visited Los Alamos (unfortunately, we didn't take any pictures there, but it's still very much a company town) and the nearby Bandelier National Monument. The monument isn't referred to by name in the book, for some reason (it was established in 1916, so it was a monument at the time of the book). But Dewey and her father do visit--they explore Frijoles Canyon and climb into one of the caves in the characteristic tuff.

The mesa area between Los Alamos and Frijoles Canyon.

Looking down into Frijoles Canyon. The road-like thing in the foreground is a trail; in the background you can see the road leading down into the canyon, which runs off down into the Rio Grande.

Ruins at the base of the tuff cliff.

This could have been Dewey, climbing into the cave :)
Bandelier Ruins


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