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THREE friends, TWO secrets, ONE lie, and the summer that changed their lives.
The world is ripe for destruction in 1953. The Korean War drags on and the Rosenbergs are executed as spies. Senator Joseph McCarthy convinces the country communists are infiltrating the government, and the threat of nuclear war festered in the collective consciousness of the nationWhile the nation worries about communist bombs, sixteen-year-old Bernadette Vaughn holds court in the family bomb shelter,...
THREE friends, TWO secrets, ONE lie, and the summer that changed their lives.
The world is ripe for destruction in 1953. The Korean War drags on and the Rosenbergs are executed as spies. Senator Joseph McCarthy convinces the country communists are infiltrating the government, and the threat of nuclear war festered in the collective consciousness of the nationWhile the nation worries about communist bombs, sixteen-year-old Bernadette Vaughn holds court in the family bomb shelter, finagling a way to read Kinsey’s groundbreaking work on human sexuality. She obsesses about boys and big city life. Her best friend, Faith McNulty is a devout Catholic who dreams of staying in their small town, marrying Allen Hanlon, and raising a family. Their awkward and unattractive friend, Octavia Mansfield doesn’t have room in her life for boys, dreams, or God. She spends most of her young life caring for her severely disabled brother.
Their conversations about what each of them would do if the end of the world were imminent become the catalyst for a prank that spins wildly beyond control and draws in an entire town.
Left behind in the wake of that summer’s events are their unrealized dreams and open wounds. In 1973, a reunion trip to the small town of their youth returns them to the summer of 1953 and the passion and betrayal that changed their lives.
Atomic Summer received an Honorable Mention at the 2012 Southern California book Festival.
Posted June 19, 2012
Atomic Summer is an enjoyable read that does not disappoint. The title suggests something explosive going on between the pages and Elaine D Walsh does not disappoint the reader. Besides the atomic era in which the story is set, where communists, spies, nuclear bombs, and bomb shelters make for a jittery population, there are the “bombs” that go off in the characters lives. There are three best friends: Bernadette, Faith, and Octavia. Bernadette is boy crazy, manipulative, and secretly insecure. This reader wanted to nuke her a few times, but she is the character that lights the match that sets off the atomic dominoes, so good thing the writer cleverly knew what was she was doing. Faith is as her name suggests, faithful and wholesome. She wants to marry her boyfriend and live happily ever after, but somewhere in her naïve yearning the reader can feel a “ka-boom” just waiting to go off. She is also the referee between Bernadette and Octavia. Octavia is the girl we all knew in school that was unattractive, gangly and kept to herself for fear of drawing attention that would never be the good kind coming from mean-spirited classmates. I loved this character. I cheered for her and cried for her.
These three characters are sucked into the drama that follows a prank orchestrated by Bernadette at her brother’s homecoming celebration where he returns to Port Pompeii, New York from the Korean War. Something is not quite right with Stephen…another ka-boom lurking, perhaps. He reminded me of the veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and is certainly a character we can relate to in 2012. Nobody laughs at Bernadette’s prank because it is 1953 and people are afraid nuclear Armageddon is right around the corner, and of course, no one knows it is a prank. And this is where it gets complicated and the author sets up a series of events that culminate in an explosive night that sets their lives on different paths than what they imagined for themselves.
Besides being an enjoyable read, it brings up questions that many of us ask throughout our lives around faith, love, life, and death. I was glad it was these young characters struggling with these profound topics so I could enjoy the story.
People are always nostalgic in their backward glance in history, yearning for the “good old days”. And what is more wholesome than the 1950’s? Fashions changed and some of the social norms have changed but teenagers were teenagers exploring life, pushing limits, the country still battled abroad and American’s were concerned about world events; in other words, the good old days weren’t always so good. They had many similarities to these days. Today, somewhere in this country, a trio of girls are no doubt having their own atomic summer.
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Posted June 19, 2012
This book is a fun summer read. It’s one of those stories that you can sit by the pool or on the beach or anywhere you can curl up for a few hours and escape for some R&R reading enjoyment. The first lines intrigued me and from there I kept turning the pages to see what came next and I was not disappointed.
The story opens in 1973 with a brief flashback from Faith, who is one of the main characters. She is traveling back to her hometown for a reunion where she will be reunited with her girlhood friends in the small town in upstate New York where she grew up. Something happened that summer that changed her life and the lives of her friends. The way the writer sets up the opening scene made me want to find out. In other words, I was hooked! I didn’t have to give it a few chapters to see if I was interested in turning the pages.
The story immediately jumps to 1953. Bernadette, who is Faith’s best friend, is holding court in her family’s bomb shelter. It is 1953 for goodness sakes and the communist “red scare” is in full flight, so what a perfect place for teenagers to hang out, cool off, grow up and grow bored. Bernadette is obsessed with boys. They aren’t quite as enamored with her and who can blame them. She is a narcissist you just want to reach in to the pages and slap. I love it when a character drums up emotion in me, both good and bad. Well, Bernadette doesn’t hide her interest for Faith’s boyfriend which sets up a nice conflict between these supposed best friends. But Faith is too naïve and too good of a friend to do what I would have done which is punch Bernadette right in the kisser. Then there’s the ugly duckling third wheel friend Octavia who you find yourself rooting for as she struggles to step out of the dark shadows of her troubled family.
Besides the story’s main characters Faith, Bernadette and Octavia (which BTW, the point of view shifts between Faith and Octavia which makes for interesting story telling), there is the over the top, self proclaimed southern belle matriarch of Bernadette’s family, giving the reader insight as to why Bernadette is the overbearing girl she is. And wait until you meet the mysterious Reverend Flews. Add two teenage boys to this stew of a story to spice it. There’s a lot to taste as you slurp from the author’s spoon and find yourself trying to figure out all of the ingredients that go into this coming of age story.
The author’s tag line is “THREE friends, TWO secrets, ONE lie, and the summer that changed their lives”. The author leaves breadcrumbs to follow one secret while she slowly reveals another and the euphoric and heart wrenching impact of each one. And the lie that becomes blatantly clear early on what it is and who is telling it and the entire community gets sucked in to it. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive”. It is deliciously tangled and the next best seller in my eyes.
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Posted January 19, 2013
Reviewed by Alice DiNizo for Readers Favorite
It is the summer of 1953 and three high school friends, Faith, Octavia and Bernadette, live in the New York State town of Port Pompeii which was once an active part of the famous Erie canal system. Faith lives with her father and grandfather in the town's Buxton Inn where residents congregate, watch and drink. Octavia lives with her mother and helps all day, every day, to keep her polio afflicted brother Archie alive. Bernadette lives with her overbearing mother, Savannah Vaughn, whose specialty is peach pie, and her father the mayor of Port Pompeii as they await the return of their son, Lt. Stephen Vaughn, from the fighting in Korea. The three girls' friendship is threatened constantly by Bernadette's outspoken mouth and ways but they live out their lives as best they can. Faith's teenage love, Allen, is lukewarm to their budding romance, derelict, drunken Reverend Pappy Flews rents the abandoned Canaller's Church, and Stephen Vaughn does come home from Korea to the parade and party organized by his mother Savanah. What will happen next in the small town of Port Pompeii?
"Atomic Summer" tells of that long ago time of 1953 when Eisenhower had just been elected President, the Korean War was ending, the Rosenbergs were electrocuted for sharing secrets with the enemy, and Senator Joseph McCarthy was in full battle gear against "communists". Main characters Faith, Octavia, Bernadette, Bernadette's mother Savannah, Faith's Allen and his friend Wesley, and all other characters both major and minor are believable and totally of the times back then. Elaine Walsh has written a delightful and sometimes sad book that tells of a period in not so long ago history. She also writes of people's lives as they picked up from mistakes made and went on living as best as they were able to. Highly recommended for reading lists everywhere.
Posted August 2, 2012
Loved this book. I couldn't put it down. It was such a great summer read that I bought it for 3 friends for their birthdays and they have all enjoyed it and are recommending it to their friends.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 15, 2012
Posted June 25, 2012
Posted June 24, 2012
Atomic Summer follows several adolescents and adults through their unforgettable summer of 1953, in the small upstate New York town of Port Pompeii. The author has perfectly molded them into remarkable characters, and people we could relate to, whether we lived through the 1950s or not.
Having been a child in the 50s, I found the book to be very true to the period, from the threat of Communism, bomb shelters, air raid drills, and teens obsessed with their virginity as well as burgeoning sexuality. The desire to be normal, though no one knew what that was, was always out of reach. The 50s was a very conservative time, with judgement and pain in the wings at any given time.
The way author Elaine Walsh sets up the main characters, Faith, Octavia and Bernadette, and her mother, the insufferable Savannah, you know them early on, although this doesn’t make them predictable. Savannah single-handedly brought back memories of how mothers can embarrass us, and each of the girls had recognizable qualities and faults.
The young men in the book are full of surprises, but Stephen, who returns to Port Pompeii from the Korean War offers the most poignant dialog, and is wise beyond his years. Then there’s Rev. Pappy who offers mystery and color and a surprising background. Friends Wesley and Allen are central characters as well and they certainly reminded me of boys I knew, and showed sense of fun and angst.
Each character is illustrated in a way that draws the reader to feel that he/she knows them personally. When things happened, I felt that they were happening to people I knew, and I went through a range of emotions as well.
Drawn in, I finished the book in two days, and it was one of those stories that I didn’t want to end. I’m hoping that Ms. Walsh will treat us to more of her talent, because after reading Atomic Summer, I plan on reading anything she writes! I haven’t felt this way about an author since Anne Tyler and Joyce Carol Oates.