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The Cloud Chamber

The Cloud Chamber

4.1 7
by Joyce Maynard

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When Nate Chance arrives home from school, he sees two police cars and an ambulance in his yard. Before his mother can get him and his little sister, Junie, inside, Nate and Junie witness their father, blood pouring down his face, being led by two police officers into an ambulance. He has tried to kill himself.

Home quickly becomes a different place. Junie


When Nate Chance arrives home from school, he sees two police cars and an ambulance in his yard. Before his mother can get him and his little sister, Junie, inside, Nate and Junie witness their father, blood pouring down his face, being led by two police officers into an ambulance. He has tried to kill himself.

Home quickly becomes a different place. Junie stays curled up in front of the TV; Nate's mom retreats inside herself; and the rumor of mental illness makes Nate a social pariah at school. Only the promise of winning the science fair holds any hope of happiness for Nate. He's building a cloud chamber, the project that he and his dad dreamed of working on together. Maybe if he can build it, Nate can give his father something that will help him feel better and finally come home.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Johnstone's spot-on preteen tone and easygoing, heartfelt delivery are a comfortable fit for Maynard's wrenching coming-of-age novel. Nate knew that hard times on their small dairy farm and mounting debt were taking a toll on his family. But he couldn't know that his father's despair would lead him to a suicide attempt. When the police take Nate's dad away after he wounds himself, Nate must face some difficult new realities as he tries to figure out what really happened that day and deal with the people who turn on him and his family. Mom and little sister Junie worry what lies ahead, but Nate figures that things will surely improve if he can win a spot in the state science fair-which happens to be held near the hospital where his father is recuperating. Throughout, Johnstone's Nate never lets listeners forget how much the boy steadfastly loves and admires his dad, and hopes for a happy ending-even when everything else in life is a painful jumble. Ages 12-up. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
It was 1966 in Lonetree, Montana. The Chance's Dairy Farm was home to 14-year-old Nate, his younger sister Junie, and their parents Carl and Helen. One February day their world was turned upside-down. As the school bus dropped Nate and Junie off at home, they witnessed their bleeding father being led to an ambulance. Helen and the children found themselves in the middle of a police investigation as to whether Carl's gunshot wound to his head was self-inflicted, or did Helen shoot him? With the rifle missing, would this mystery ever be solved? To make matters worse, the family was shunned by their friends and neighbors. The science fair was fast-approaching and Nate needed a partner to assist him with building a cloud chamber. Since his best friend Larry chose another partner, Nate was left to pair-up with the other class outcast, Naomi. The family's lack of conversation about his father's tragedy stirred up feelings of frustration, anger and despair in Nate. Nate and Junie missed their father terribly and took desperate measures to visit him. And when they finally reached their dad at the mental hospital . . . This story is sure to evoke feelings of compassion for the Chance family, and will hold the reader's interest until the very last word. Joyce Maynard has included information on building a cloud chamber under Acknowledgments. 2005, Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, Ages 11 to 14.
—Mary Jo Edwards
Fourteen-year-old Nate and his younger sister, Junie, return from school to find that their world has imploded. They watch as their father, blood pouring down his face, is loaded into an ambulance. Their mother and extended family keep them completely in the dark about what has happened. Only by eavesdropping does Nate discover that his father has attempted suicide. When his friends shun him and only one girl attends Junie's birthday party, Nate is determined to confront his father. He pins his hopes on winning the local science fair and then advancing to the next competition to be held close to where his father is hospitalized. Forced into partnership, Nate and Naomi, who is also somewhat of an outcast, construct an ingenious cloud chamber. When the project fails to win and the move from the farm is imminent, Nate becomes desperate. He takes Junie and drives his mother's car to the hospital. There Nate discovers that in the light of truth there is some real hope. Although the story is set in rural Montana in the 1960s, it illuminates how social stigmatization, parental abuse, and suicide have universal and timeless ramifications. Maynard underscores that parents who keep their children uninformed during family crises only compound their misery. Using flashbacks and intricate descriptions-the complex cloud chamber construction and the delivery of the perfect screwball pitch-Maynard wisely relieves some of the heart-wrenching tension. An absolute wizard at character development, she creates memorable personalities and a must-purchase book. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High,defined as grades 10 to 12). 2005, Anne Schwartz Books/Atheneum/S & S, 288p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Barbara Johnston
KLIATT - Janis Flint-Ferguson
To quote the hardcover review in KLIATT, July 2005: The novel opens with 14-year-old Nate Chance and his little sister June being met at the school bus stop by police cars. There is a scene of their dad being helped across the pasture, blood streaming down the side of his head. Nate's dad is sent to a mental hospital for attempting suicide, and his mother is harassed for perhaps being the one who really pulled the trigger. The small town of Lonetree, Montana in the late 1960s is not an easy place to deal privately with such a public tragedy; everybody is talking about the family even while avoiding them. Nate becomes friends with classmate Naomi when they are assigned to do the science fair together. Naomi is also on the fringes of town society. The daughter of the town's conservative pastor, she doesn't look like the other kids and lives by a rigid set of standards. Their science project, a cloud chamber, serves as a focal point and a metaphor for the storm in Nate's life. Designed to show the remnants of radioactivity in the atmosphere, the chamber is a reminder that we cannot see all that is going on around us. In Nate's case, the lack of openness of his mother and the loss of a father he adores are parts of his life that cannot be shared on the outside. What is known is that without adequate income, the family will be required to sell the farm. Before Nate and his sister can put an end to that part of their lives, they take the family car and travel 300 miles to visit their father. These are characters whose outer lives belie inner conflicts, and readers will care about what happens to them.
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10-In the 1960s, Nate, 14, copes with a family tragedy that is poorly handled by most of the adults in his life. Apparently, his father attempted suicide, but failure to find the rifle that caused his head wound has the local law enforcement-and the neighbors-wondering if Nate's mother fired the shot. Their Montana dairy farm was already in big trouble and now bankruptcy is imminent. Nate deals with the cold shoulders he gets at school by determining to build a science project that would make his father proud: a cloud chamber in which the radiation of cosmic particles is made visible in vapor. His partner is the girl no one likes: Naomi dresses funny, and her father is a fire-and-brimstone preacher. But she is a good artist and has plenty of emotional intelligence, and Nate learns to treat her as an equal on the project and as a friend as well. Junie, six, has become his charge now that the family is collapsing. He listens to his sister, comforts her, and allows himself to be cheered by her seemingly endless good will. These are real kids. The plot moves quickly and engagingly through Nate's trials and small triumphs. Only the ending seems awkward and underdeveloped as he takes the car to drive Junie to see their father, now living in a mental hospital, learning Braille, and planning to go to college. That's too much too fast, but the rest of the story rings solid and true.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The school bus drops Nate off one afternoon, and everything has changed: Police cruisers are perched round his house, and an officer is leading Nate's father into an ambulance. It appears that Nate's father has attempted to shoot himself, though as his father is incoherent and there is no weapon to be found, the police start to question his mother. Fourteen-year-old Nate finds himself a pariah at school and in their rural town. He's assigned to another marginalized student, Naomi, for a partner in the Science Fair, and they set out to create a cloud chamber: an experiment in which cosmic dust is made visible. The state finals are near the hospital where his father is incommunicado and Nate hopes to make it there. Maynard's narrative style is smooth and natural, and her characterization of Nate as an adolescent caught in a social vacuum, his thoughts spiraling desperately towards the cosmos, is apt. Readers drawn to quiet, complex character stories will appreciate this emotionally true offering. (Fiction. 13-17)
From the Publisher
"Readers will care about [these characters]."

"A bedrock of emotional authenticity underlies Maynard's storytelling, and the prairie landscape...makes a stark, unforgettable impression."

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The Cloud Chamber

By Joyce Maynard

Atheneum/Anne Schwartz Books

Copyright © 2005 Joyce Maynard
All right reserved.

ISBN: 068987152X

Chapter One

Even in the pitch dark, Nate figured he could walk this particular stretch of gravel road from the two-lane blacktop to his family's farm, he knew it that well: the barn, the implement shed, the pond where his sister, Junie, liked to launch her little homemade boats, and beyond it, the four hundred acres that made up Chance's Dairy Farm. Their land--just a small piece, compared to the ranches on all sides--stretched out almost perfectly flat as far as the eye could see, except for a single rise, at the far corner, where a stand of poplar trees marked the spot his father called the animal burial ground. Off at the farthest end of the property, the skeleton of a long-abandoned windmill pierced the otherwise-unbroken sky.

A long time ago, when he was little, Nate and his dad hiked to the edge of their land together to watch the total eclipse of the sun. They'd buried a time capsule under the poplars that day, with a Matchbox car inside, along with the wrapper from the Mounds bar they'd shared, a handful of plastic Indians, and his dad's old baseball cap.

Today, as the school bus made its way along the dirt road that curved around the barn to where his family's house came into view, an unfamiliar sight greeted him. A police cruiser was parked out front, and in the yard stood two officers in uniform. One he recognized as the umpire from last summer's Little League games. The other was the dad of somebody from school, a kid a few years younger than he was--sixth grade, maybe. He was one of those regular-looking dads you sometimes saw, manning the grill at the annual baseball picnic, that Nate used to wish, guiltily, his own father resembled--his father, as everyone knew, being different from the others.

Nate's best friend, Larry, sitting next to him, spotted the cruiser too. "Man oh man," he said. "You think your family got robbed or something?"

"Maybe some convict's on the loose," said a girl named Susan, who was always recounting the plots of TV shows like Dr. Kildare and Perry Mason. "And they took your mom hostage."

Across the aisle from Nate, his little sister, Junie, looked suddenly anxious. "It's probably nothing, J," he told her. "I bet they're just collecting for some fund-raiser. More than likely, they want Mom to make her lemon bars again."

By the time he stepped off the bus, Nate knew something was wrong. He could see it in the face of his mother, standing outside in her old blue dress and a cardigan, though the February air was cold enough to sting.

"Take your sister in the house, Nathan," she said, her voice tight and low, as he surveyed the snow-covered yard: the officers, the cruiser, and a second cruiser he hadn't noticed before. Over by the barn a third policeman held tightly to the leashes of a couple of bloodhounds, barking like they'd caught the scent of a dead animal. Rufus, their farmhand, would normally be heading out to the barn for the late-afternoon milking right about now, but he had set his bucket down and was talking with rare animation while another officer--number four--wrote in a notebook.

Before Nate could ask what was going on, one of the officers took hold of his shoulder and pushed him toward the house. "Mom--," he started, but she just stood there, motionless, as if she couldn't hear.

He could make out Larry, staring through a window of the bus. Henry, the driver, was just backing up to turn around. Out the back more kids craned to see as they pointed toward the barking dogs.

"Go on inside, son," the officer said again. Only it was too late. Nate had spotted them. Two other officers moved slowly toward the farmhouse, with a third figure, bent over and staggering, supported between the uniformed men. It took a moment to realize who this other person was: Nate's father.

Junie saw too. She started running toward her father, running as hard as she could, until one of the policemen grabbed hold and held her back.

"This isn't the time to see your dad, honey," he said. "You'd best go inside with your brother."

Nate stared at the figure, slumped between the officers, moving toward them. He recognized the work boots and the old blue jeans, the mop of sandy hair. The part that was new was the blood, pouring down his face, and the terrible, crumpled expression. It looked as if the weight of the whole world were pressing down on his shoulders, as if something had broken inside him that could not be fixed. He must have put his hands to his face at some point, because they were bloody too, and on his work pants were splotches of deep red.

"What's going on?" Nate called out, his voice as choked as if a pair of hands clutched his throat. The officer was holding him by the shoulders.

His mom was there too, putting her arms around him, or trying to. "It's going to be okay," she said, but she didn't sound like she believed it.

"I need to see my dad," Nate yelled, louder this time.

From one of the cruisers, Nate could make out the crackling sound of the dispatcher on the radio and one of the policemen answering in the clipped tone Nate had heard on Dragnet, where whatever terrible thing was going on that week on the show was boiled down to a few flat syllables.

"Victim of a gunshot wound over at the Chance farm," the policeman said into the microphone. "Guy's been missing since this morning, but the dogs finally located him, wandering the back forty. From where the bullet entered his head, you'd never think he could've survived."

"I have to see him," Nate yelled. More desperate now.

"Daddy!" It was Junie this time. They were putting her father in the back of an ambulance that had pulled up, and she was wriggling and crying, trying to get free of the police officer's grasp.

"Bullet must've missed his brain," the officer said into the transmitter. "That's the miracle of it. Unclear exactly what happened. The guy isn't making any sense."

For a long minute Nate didn't move. He heard one of the officers, calling again to get the kids in the house; the barking of the bloodhounds; the police car idling out front; Aunt Sal's car pulling onto the gravel drive next to them. He could hear the faint, muffled weeping of Junie--who seemed to have gotten the impression the blood came from the dogs biting their dad. He heard the cows, overdue to be milked, lowing in the barn and Rufus muttering, "See what I mean? Crazy."

From his mother, no sound.

Nate smelled sweat and realized it was his own. He could feel the thick arms of the police officer, wrapping around his waist and lifting him off the ground, as he bucked to free himself.

"Get your hands off me," he yelled. "Just leave me alone."

"Easy, honey." Aunt Sal this time, her cool hand pressing hard on his jacket, like she was easing an ornery bull back into the stall.

"Let go of me! I want my dad."

He flung his whole body down, scrabbling his fingers in the frozen ground. Hands pulled at him--Aunt Sal and two of the policemen. He could see the feet of the dogs as they pawed against the sides of the police van, hear the scratchy sound of the dispatcher on the radio and, quieter, the voice of his father as he was eased into the ambulance. Not words, just a low moaning.

He tried crawling on his belly. He had to get to his dad, but the hands kept him back. The door slammed and the ambulance pulled away.

One of the officers lifted him up. "Easy, kid. You don't need to be seeing this."

"That's my dad inside. I have to see my dad."

"Your dad's in no shape, son. We're bringing him to the hospital. Your mother's coming along to answer some questions. You'd best let the adults take charge and go on in the house."

Nate kept kicking, so hard one of his shoes came off. He watched the boot sail past the tire swing their father had put up for them and land in a mud-encrusted snowdrift along the gravel.

"Come on now, honey," Aunt Sal was saying. "Let's you and me and Junie go in the house and fix ourselves some hot chocolate."

As he watched the ambulance disappear down the driveway Nate took a last look at the figure in the back--his father. By the time he reached the back door, he was quiet. He even knew to take off his one remaining boot, along with the wet sock, so he wouldn't track mud onto the linoleum.

Copyright (c) 2005 by Joyce Maynard


Excerpted from The Cloud Chamber by Joyce Maynard Copyright © 2005 by Joyce Maynard. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Joyce Maynard started her writing career when she was fourteen. Her books include the memoirs At Home in the World and Looking Back and the novels To Die For (which was made into a movie starring Nicole Kidman) and, most recently, The Usual Rules (an ALA Best Book for Young Adults). The mother of three grown children, she lives in northern California. Visit her Web site at www.joycemaynard.com.

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The Cloud Chamber 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Wendy Stokke More than 1 year ago
this was such a great book! if u like drama suspense mystery or all of the above youll love it
Avacadoo More than 1 year ago
Joyce Maynard does a great job of grasping the depression, sadness for the characters. She does a exceptional job in this story. This has to be the best book I've read. I would suggest it to anyone. Read it, you'll love it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The cloud chamber, was a beautifuly written book, by an author who is simply genious. It was an emotional book, but defintley exciting. It had terrific twists and turns, made you want to keep on reading. I have met, Joyce Maynard, and i must tell you she is one terrific writer. she has inspired and I encourage you to read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think the cloud chamber was really good, but it was sad. It had a good story line and made you want to keep reading!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kendall Bottcher More than 1 year ago
This book is one of the best books ive ever read! Itbis a mystery but in the end they get to see tgeir dad and it is kinda gay but otherwise its really good but cheesey at the same time. Lol(: