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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
Posted September 13, 2013
What if the Cuban Missile Crisis had resulted in a bomb being dropped on U.S. soil? What if your house had the only bomb shelter in the whole neighborhood? What if all of your neighbors tried to get into your shelter, but you only had room and food for your family? This is the world of Fallout.
Three adjectives that describe this book: dark, fast-paced, intense
Content appropriate for: Grades 9 and up
I was drawn to this book by both the cover (Whoa!) and the premise (Double Whoa!). Todd Strasser goes all-in with this book. He jumps right into the terror and tragedy of a nation being attacked by The Bomb and its people scrabbling to survive. His use of short chapters, alternating between this crisis and life before the bomb, keeps the story moving at a rapid pace. This novel was fascinating and completely engrossing. However...
The story fell flat in a few ways. Let's start with the characters. There aren't many of them since most of the time they are holed up in the bomb shelter. Even though there are a limited number of characters, none of them felt completely developed. Not even the central character, Scott!
Another area of concern is the recurrence of unnecessary adult moments. Although the primary youth in the novel are in sixth grade, the frequent mention of nudity, especially boys ogling breasts, requires a very mature reader. Although it's realistic that adults and children would eventually bathe and use the bathroom in front of one another, these and other graphic elements lead me to recommend the novel to only audiences in high school or older. I wish Strasser had made the protagonists older to match the use of sexuality, or had left these out entirely. They really aren't necessary for the plot.
Finally, I found one scene particularly disturbing. At one point two of the sixth grade boys discuss what it means to be homosexual. They conclude by saying that it is simply disgusting and unnatural. I recognize that this novel is set in 1962 and that this conversation would make sense in that setting, however it makes me uncomfortable to promote this thinking in the 21st century. Again, Strasser could have just as easily left this out.
Overall, Fallout is a compelling read that is marred by too many overly sexualized moments. Readers in high school or older should find a lot to love here, though.
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Todd Strasser's Fallout is told from the point-of-view of 11-year-old Scott, giving insight into the same fears held by generations of Cold War children.
I couldn't help but think of my own parents telling me about the "duck and cover" drills they went through during their school years. Readers are privy to the rabbit trails that take place in Scott's mind as he considers: Could we really be bombed? What would happen, exactly? What if I'm not with my family? How will we survive? What if...?
Geared for ages 10 and up, the events and the emotions involved in Fallout are vividly brought to life in an age-appropriate way. Readers encounter a rich vocabulary and a healthy dose of history, handled in a way kids will find (if they recognize it at all) entertaining. This can be a difficult balance to achieve, but it seems to come about naturally in Strasser's writing.
From beginning to end, I was absolutely riveted by Fallout and read it pretty much straight through. This is a thrilling middle-grade novel that brings up endless points for discussion, whether learning more about the Cuban Missile Crisis or addressing the ethical questions that arise in the storyline.
The book's website contains a number of resources for use in educational settings and reading groups, so teachers/parents, be sure to check that out.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher after winning a prize during Armchair BEA. A review was not requested or expected; I did not receive any compensation for this honest review.
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