Candlewick, 2013 258 pgs Grades 6-8
Eleven year old Scott is a typical boy living in a Long Island suburban town in 1962. The Cuban Missile Crisis looms as Scott and his friends begin a new school year and have adventures and misadventures. The nearly idyllic childhood is shadowed by the threat of war. Scott's father prepares for the worst and builds a bomb shelter in the basement, much to the embarrassment of the family. The teasing of the neighbors turns to panic as the whole neighborhood attempts to gain access to the shelter when the unthinkable happens and New York is bombed. Through Scott's eyes we see three families fighting for survival, sanity and basic dignity as they remain trapped in the shelter. Will they ever get out and what will they find if they do? These questions keep the reading turning pages until the end. Alternating chapters between life in the bomb shelter and the time leading up to the attack provide contrast and anticipation.
Fallout provides a first-hand account of the Cold War as seen through an eleven year old American boy. Right up to the dropping of the bomb it is historically accurate. Then Strasser leads us on a journey of "what if"...? Some background knowledge of the Cold War would be helpful going into the book, but is not necessary. The plot is so interesting that young readers won't get caught up in the history, but at the end of the day will walk away knowing something about the time period. Strasser leaves us with subtle lessons that are still applicable today about the price of war and seeing other sides of political conflict. The publisher recommends this book for grades 5-8. There are some parts of the book that are a bit inappropriate for a younger audience, so I would recommend the book for at least sixth grade. I wish the author left those parts out because young people do not like to read books with characters younger than themselves and the inappropriate bits limit the scope of the audience. Fallout would appeal to boys more than girls, but could be enjoyed by both. I labeled this book as "historical fantasy" because it really is a bit of each. There is no magic that would make it a fantasy, just a re-writing of history that could have happened if Khrushchev pressed that fatal button. The alternating chapters between life in the shelter and the time leading up to the bombing really help to keep the pages turning, but may lead to confusion for struggling readers. Will the survivors make it out of the shelter? And if so, what will they find? The answers to these questions will keep readers plowing ahead to a mostly satisfying conclusion, yet one that leaves some things still unanswered. Fallout is book sure to lead to thoughtful discussion, all while learning about an often over-looked time in history in children's literature and all the while wrapped-up in an exciting plot.