Imagine that you're eleven years old and your best friend suddenly seems to hate you, your older sister is obviously keeping secrets, the boy you have a crush on returns to your neighborhood, and your beloved great-uncle who lives with you is delusional. Now set all of that against the turbulent era of the early 1960s when schoolchildren are taught to duck and cover and everyone is on edge because who knows when the atomic bomb will be dropped on the U.S. There you have the premise of Deborah Wiles's Countdown, a powerful young adult novel that deposits you squarely amid the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
Countdown tells its story through the eyes of Franny, whose father is a major at Andrews Air Force base, and whose life seems to turn upside down during the pivotal week when Russian missiles are found aimed at America from Cuba. Franny wants everything to be normal, but beyond her own family trials, the world seems to have lost its mind. Constantly composing a letter to Chairman Krushchev, Franny feels life spinning out of control on all levels, and she feels invisible and powerless to do anything about it.
This is a quick reading novel, and it's brilliantly written. Franny just leaps from the pages with her worries and growing recognition of just who she is. Interspersed throughout the book are actual photos, headlines, song lyrics, and speeches from the times; these add so much to the recreation of the world as it was in 1962. The author establishes the setting perfectly, and wrenches your heart with Franny's desperate longings for normalcy and acceptance. This is a strong tale that is going to stick with me for some time. Do yourself a favor and read this book. You won't regret it.