Monday, September 19, 2016

Middle Grade Monday: White Sands, Red Menace


Title: White Sands, Red Menace
Author: Ellen Klages
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers, 2008. 344 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
It is 1946. World War II is over--ended by the atomic bomb that Dewey Kerrigan's and Suze Gordon's scientist parents helped build. Dewey's been living with the Gordons since before the war's end, before her father died, moving south with them to Alamogordo, New Mexico. At the White Sands Missile Range, Phil Gordon is working on rockets that will someday go to the moon; at home, Terry Gordon is part of the scientists' movement against the Bomb. Dewey and Suze have conflicts of their own. Where does a girl who likes physics and math fit in? How do you know the right time to speak up and the right time to keep your head down? And, most important of all: What defines a family? 

My Review: 
I read and reviewed The Green Glass Sea a few weeks ago, and liked it enough that I hunted up the sequel to follow up on what became of Dewey and Suzy. The book is different from the first, but did not disappoint.

Despite being set in the heart of world-changing events, these books aren't about the big picture. They are about the lives of a couple of 12 or 13-year-old girls working out their own places in the world. Even more than The Green Glass Sea, I found White Sands, Red Menace to be about both girls, switching from Dewey's perspective to Suzy's in an easy-to-follow way (chapter by chapter), but not in a set pattern as far as I could tell. The author simply brings us into each girl's life when circumstances call for it.

On the surface, it is Dewey who has the most to deal with: her mother vanished when Dewey was a baby, so with her father dead she's pretty much an orphan, but not quite legally available for adoption, either. So she carries around a fear that the Gordons won't want or be able to keep her, and occasional battles with Suzy don't help.

But Suzy's life isn't easy either. She struggles with jealousy as her mother and Dewey share their love of science, leaving out the artistic Suzy. She just wants to go home to Berkeley and have everything like it was before the war. Instead, her father keeps wanting to stay on, enthralled by the excitement of what they are doing at Almagordo. It's pulling her family apart, and sometimes Suzy blames Dewey. And, for the first time, both girls make new friends, apart from each other, as they follow their own interests. We see them gradually working out how to be siblings without being in each other's faces all the time.

Once again the author brings meticulous research to the job to make 1940s Almagordo come to life, and modern children may be shocked to find that Dewey isn't allowed to take shop, and the Hispanic families aren't allowed to live in most neighborhoods of the town (even though, in fact, they were there first). For me, I'm old enough to remember when the curricular divide between boys and girls was still a de facto one, if not a matter of regulation, and I feel with Dewey's deep resentment of this! The growing concern about nuclear weapons and the divide between the scientists in the Gordons' own household is also well presented.

Definitely a sequel worth reading. I recommend starting with The Green Glass Sea, as things will make a great deal more sense and that was a great read. Ages 11 up, or thereabouts. There aren't exactly "adult" issues, but but definitely some adolescent issues come up.

Note: We visited White Sands National Monument (kind of on the opposite side from where the test site was) in, I think, 1968. Wish I had some photos to share, because the white sand is an amazing sight!

And my brother sent me some pictures! Color is a little weird because they are scanned from slides taken in the 1960s. So this isn't all that long after Suzy was there.
Like snow, only warm!

The campground (or picnic area?)

FTC Disclosure: I checked White Sands, Red Menace out of my 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." 


  1. Sounds like a book that addresses some interesting topics, but I wonder how relevant they'd be to today's kids.

    White Sands is a neat place to go. My kids liked running and sliding down the dunes though we got there pretty close to closing time. I've been there a few times over the years and would gladly go again if I were nearby.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    1. I think that the focus of the book is on the relationships and the efforts to figure out how to be a family in some odd circumstances. I don't think that is particularly tied to any historical time. The historical setting just adds some interest.

  2. Thanks to my brother, I was able to add a couple of pictures of White Sands.


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