What if the bomb had actually been dropped? What if your family was the only one with a shelter?

In the summer of 1962, the possibility of nuclear war is all anyone talks about. But Scott’s dad is the only one in the neighborhood who actually prepares for the worst. As the neighbors scoff, he builds a bomb shelter to hold his family and stocks it with just enough supplies to keep the four of them alive for two critical weeks. In the middle of the night in late October, when the ...

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What if the bomb had actually been dropped? What if your family was the only one with a shelter?

In the summer of 1962, the possibility of nuclear war is all anyone talks about. But Scott’s dad is the only one in the neighborhood who actually prepares for the worst. As the neighbors scoff, he builds a bomb shelter to hold his family and stocks it with just enough supplies to keep the four of them alive for two critical weeks. In the middle of the night in late October, when the unthinkable happens, those same neighbors force their way into the shelter before Scott’s dad can shut the door. With not enough room, not enough food, and not enough air, life inside the shelter is filthy, physically draining, and emotionally fraught. But even worse is the question of what will — and won’t — remain when the door is opened again. Internationally best-selling author Todd Strasser has written his most impressive and personal novel to date, ruthlessly yet sensitively exploring the terrifying what-ifs of one of the most explosive moments in human history.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Edward Lewine
For all its horror, this is a superb entertainment suitable for any tough-minded kid over the age of 10. It thrums along with finely wrought atmosphere and gripping suspense. If the characters aren't exactly overburdened with complexity, they're better drawn than many of the people one bumps into in the average thriller. Strasser…writes with purpose and economy and structures his book intelligently: The scenes of prewar life give context and emotional weight to what happens in the shelter. Without the prewar material, the tension and misery of the drama in the shelter might be unbearable.
Publishers Weekly
★ 08/12/2013
Strasser (Kill You Last) brings readers to the 1960s Long Island of his youth, with one crucial difference: in this story, the Cuban Missile Crisis leads Russia to bomb the U.S. The plot alternates between two threads set before and after the bomb drops; in the immediate aftermath, 11-year-old Scott, his family, and a handful of neighbors endure the increasingly difficult conditions in the subterranean bomb shelter Scott’s father built, waiting for radiation levels to fall. The format allows Strasser to have the best of both worlds. In the “before” chapters, he presents a vision of life during the Cold War that feels ripped from personal memory as Scott grows aware of racial prejudice, the prevailing “us vs. them” mentality toward Russia, and his own nascent sexuality (“You want to die without ever seeing a breast?” Scott’s snide friend Ronnie asks). Meanwhile, the “after” chapters are claustrophobic, heartbreaking, and at times ugly as civility breaks down among the few adult and children survivors. An eye-opening “what if” scenario about the human response to disaster. Ages 10–up. Agent: Stephen Barbara, Foundry Literary + Media. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
Strasser once again combines terrific suspense with thoughtful depth... This riveting examination of things important to a boy suddenly thrust into an adult catastrophe is un-put-down-able.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

An eye-opening "what if" scenario about the human response to disaster.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

[An] exciting, harrowing new novel... For all its horror, this is a superb entertainment suitable for any tough-minded kid over the age of 10. It thrums along with finely wrought atmosphere and gripping suspense. ... Strasser, a prolific writer for children and teenagers, writes with purpose and economy and structures his book intelligently.
—The New York Times Book Review

VOYA - Rebecca Moore
In 1962, fearing war with Russia, Scott's father builds a bomb shelter under their house. The neighbors' amusement and disdain vanishes when the sirens start wailing, and many physically force their way into the shelter with Scott's family. Now ten people crowd into a space meant—and stocked—for only four. As they wait out the two weeks until it is safe to leave, their situation grows ever more desperate. Alternating chapters tell Scott's story up until the night the bomb fell: how his best friend always gets him in trouble, how the new teacher makes them think about current issues, and how his parents disagree about the shelter. Will they ever get out? What will they find if they do? Fallout offers an intriguing premise, using near-history as the setting for an all-too-believable dystopia. All characters feel distinct and believable as well, and Scott and his friends are completely middle school: some eager to see breasts and drink wine, others not yet there, all with realistic friendship issues. While the lead-up storyline feels somewhat nebulous, lacking a normal story structure and a climax, balancing the storylines through alternating chapters works well. It allows readers relief from the shelter life's horrors and also builds suspense. The shelter details are harrowing, realistic, and disturbing but integral to the plot and not at all gratuitous. An author's note shows the inspiration for the book. Offer this to older fans of dystopia and historical fiction. Reviewer: Rebecca Moore
VOYA - Tapan Srivastava
With an original premise, Strasser had the potential to create an intellectual and thoughtful novel but fails to deliver. Firstly, the book includes two plotlines, yet the author does not allow the reader enough time to delve into either. Secondly, the writing contains too many cliches in the characters, which detracts from the novel's originality and flavor, and leaves readers with an impression of staleness. This prevents Fallout from rising to its true potential. Reviewer: Tapan Srivastava, Teen Reviewer
Children's Literature - Magi Evans
In the 1962 buildup to the Cuban Missile Crisis, everyone in Scott's community is worried about a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, but the only one to do anything about it is Scott's dad, who builds a bomb shelter in the basement. When the unthinkable actually happens, the neighbors appear, all wanting to get into the shelter, and despite efforts to keep them out, several neighbors force their way in. Now a shelter with supplies for four must house six adults and four children, including Scott's severely injured mother and the family's black housekeeper. As time goes by, the youngsters quickly become bored, then afraid, as the adults snipe at each other and secrets best kept are revealed. Strasser very effectively switches off chapters in the shelter with chapters leading up to the crisis. The tension in the shelter, as food runs out and tempers flare, is balanced by tension during the buildup. While Scott and his friends appear to be enjoying a normal adolescence, the reality of the sixties creeps into the story: racism and class snobbery abound, and common differences between household and parenting philosophies are explored. The youngsters have an outstanding sixth-grade teacher who challenges the students to think about and discuss war and peace, communism vs. democracy. The title's double meaning will be apparent to most youngsters, and while today's readers might find the "duck and cover" bomb drills at Scott's school amusing, they'll be interested to know that Strasser's own experience guides the story, as indeed his family was the only one in the neighborhood with a bomb shelter where he grew up. Readers may find that what happens in the fallout shelter is as frightening as many of the post-apocalyptic stories in publication today. This book would be excellent supportive fiction for a middle school study of that time period in twentieth century history. Reviewer: Magi Evans
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—"Dad had a gun. Mom was letting us eat in the den. Could there be any clearer signs that the end of the world was approaching?" During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Scott's father builds a bomb shelter in their backyard. Most of the neighbors ridicule the idea, but the day the bombs do go off, those same neighbors try desperately to get into the shelter. A few of them do get in, along with Scott's family, while the rest perish outside. The extra people, along with the lack of supplies, make for cramped, uncomfortable conditions, and tempers flare. They might be safe now, but what awaits them if they ever leave? The chapters alternate between the current conditions in the shelter and the months leading up to the bombs dropping. Before, Scott lives a normal sixth-grader's life, but in the back of everyone's minds are the worries about the Russians and their nuclear missiles. Scott's friend Ronny challenges him to some neighborhood mischief, justifying it with, "We might not be here tomorrow." Eventually Scott and Ronny have a knock-down fight, stopping only when Scott's father pulls them apart. At the end of the story, the shelter's inhabitants leave to find what's left of their world. The alternating chapters might be confusing at first, but it doesn't take long to get into the rhythm. Enough background about the time period is woven into the story so children unfamiliar with the Cuban Missile Crisis will have a basic knowledge of what happened. A well-written, compelling story with an interesting twist on how history might have turned out.—Diana Pierce, formerly at Leander High School, TX
School Library Journal - Audio
Gr 6 Up—In October of 1962, the unthinkable happens. As sirens warning of a nuclear attack sound through the night, Scott, his brother, and their parents rush into the fallout shelter that his father built over the summer. But they weren't expecting their neighbors to come scrambling in after them, demanding shelter as well. Now 10 people are crammed in a space meant for four with limited food, water, and other necessary supplies. As they argue, plan, and wonder what awaits them above ground, Scott remembers the events of the one golden summer before the attack. Narrator Jeff Cummings attempts to read the story with moderate success, though his voice for Scott makes the boy sound younger than his age. His female voices aren't much better. The story alternates chapters between life in the shelter and Scott's memories, but without clear distinctions designating which is which, giving the story a disjointed, confusing feel and causing it to lose much of the tension it might have in written form. Certain aspects are appropriate for tweens, though the story may be better appreciated by young teens. Only purchase where the book is popular.—Necia Blundy, formerly Marlborough Public Library, MA
Kirkus Reviews
Strasser once again combines terrific suspense with thoughtful depth when the bombs really do fall in this alternate-history Cuban missile crisis thriller. Eleven-year-old Scott's family becomes the laughingstock of their neighborhood when, worried about possible nuclear attack, they build a bomb shelter. However, when the Civil Defense siren sounds, sending them to the shelter, they can't keep their neighbors out, even though they have enough food for only their own family. In chapters that alternate between their time in the shelter and the weeks leading up to the attack, the story reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the characters. Scott and his friend Ronnie, the rather nasty neighborhood smartass, continue their friendly rivalry in the shelter, while their parents reveal much about their own personalities. The book examines racism; when Scott's mother becomes so seriously injured that it seems she will not survive, their neighbor wants to put both her and the family's black maid out of the shelter to die. The author peppers the narrative with tidbits from the early '60s, such as Tang, MAD magazine and talk of "Ruskies," "Commies" and duck-and-cover school drills. Scott's believably childlike narration recounts events and adults' reactions to them as he understands them. This riveting examination of things important to a boy suddenly thrust into an adult catastrophe is un-put-down-able. (Thriller. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781480518636
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 9/10/2013
  • Format: MP3 on CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.37 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Todd Strasser is the author of more than 140 novels for children and teens, most notably The Wave, which is taught in classrooms around the world. He lives in New York.

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