The Gadget

( 14 )


Near the end of World War II, scientists in Los Alamos, New Mexico, are working on a project that will alter the fate of the world. Thirteen-year-old Stephen Orr is living at a top secret military base with his father who is a leading physicist building the atomic bomb. Stephen realizes the dangers involved when one of the scientists becomes hospitalized as a result of working with the project. The scientist alerts him to disasters that could come from The Gadget. Stephen feels it is up to him and his friend ...

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Near the end of World War II, scientists in Los Alamos, New Mexico, are working on a project that will alter the fate of the world. Thirteen-year-old Stephen Orr is living at a top secret military base with his father who is a leading physicist building the atomic bomb. Stephen realizes the dangers involved when one of the scientists becomes hospitalized as a result of working with the project. The scientist alerts him to disasters that could come from The Gadget. Stephen feels it is up to him and his friend Tilanov to find the answers that lie behind this veil of secrecy.

In 1945, having joined his father at Los Alamos, where he and other scientists are working on a secret project to end World War II, thirteen-year-old Stephen becomes caught in a web of secrecy and intrigue.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Zindel combines a canny mix of innocence and intelligence, and thus allows readers to examine carefully a complex set of questions about moral and political issues and responsibilities.”–Publishers Weekly, Starred
[A] fast-paced, irresistibly involving suspense novel....This exciting story provides a graphic, first-person view of the Manhattan Project.
Young adults will be caught up in Stephen's exciting adventures. . . . A good complement to discussions of the bomb and studies of WWII.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Zindel maintains the page-turning immediacy of his recent novels (The Doom Stone; Reef of Death) while examining a serious piece of WWII history: the making of the atomic bomb. Through the eyes of 13-year-old Stephen, the son of one of the scientists working in Los Alamos, N.Mex., Zindel reveals the moral dilemmas lurking behind a veil of secrecy. Stephen's father works side by side with Robert Oppenheimer and other renowned physicists. Stephen gets wind of the danger involved in their covert experiments after one of the scientists is hospitalized; the victim, Dr. Soifer, piques Stephen's curiosity and alerts him to the potential disasters that could result from the "Gadget." Stephen befriends Tilanov, whose father also works on the base, and they set out together to find answers about the mysterious project, an investigation that leads to danger and disillusionment. In Stephen, Zindel combines a canny mix of innocence and intelligence, and thus allows readers to examine carefully a complex set of questions about moral and political issues and responsibilities. The novel challenges idealized views of patriotism and unconditional trust. Readers will come away from this story with much food for thought, and can go on to further reading thanks to the book's comprehensive list of historical events and descriptions of figures who played a key role in constructing these first bombs. Ages 11-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
The 13-year-old son of a scientist, at work on the atomic bomb, narrates this WWII novel, in which the author reveals the moral dilemmas lurking behind a veil of secrecy with "page-turning immediacy," said PW in a starred review. Ages 12-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
To quote KLIATT's March 2001 review of the hardcover edition: When inquisitive 13-year-old Stephen goes to join his physicist father at Los Alamos in February of 1945, he isn't sure what sort of project is being worked on there—just that it's top secret, and dangerous, too. His father and the other scientists are working around the clock, and all Stephen knows is that their work has to do with "something that could win the war. Something that could stop the Germans and the Japanese in their tracks," as his distant, distracted father says. Of course, this just piques Stephen's curiosity, and egged on by his new Russian friend Tilanov, he tries to find out what kind of "gadget" the scientists are creating. Disturbed and angry at what his father is involved with, Stephen runs away to Tilanov's family ranch, only to learn that Tilanov's family are spies. They try to kill Stephen, who narrowly escapes. Stephen also learns that his father has misgivings about the project, although he feels it's necessary to end the war, and that he truly cares about Stephen. The cover of this historical novel by the well-known author of The Pigman and many other works for YAs gives the secret of the gadget away, depicting as it does a boy's shocked face with the image of an exploding bomb reflected in his sunglasses. It's a fast-moving story that sacrifices character development for plot, but YAs won't much care, as they will be caught up in Stephen's exciting adventures. Zindel includes a chronology of WW II and the making of the bomb, along with brief descriptions of some of the important people involved with it and a list of sources he consulted. A good complement to discussions of the bomb and studies of WWII. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2001, Random House, Laurel-Leaf, 184p. bibliog.,
— Paula Rohrlick
This book was extremely interesting. Zindel has a different writing style that makes the book not hard to follow but easy to read. It followed closely the events during the period in which it was set. I thought it was a very good representation of a boy's life during World War II. I liked the book very much, and I look forward to trying some of Zindel's other books. It was a great read. Chronology. Biblio. Source Notes. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P J (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, HarperCollins, 192p, $15.95. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Andrea Alonge, Teen Reviewer SOURCE: VOYA, August 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 3)
Children's Literature
Zindel has created a page-turner of a story around a thirteen-year-old's curiosity during events of late WW II, including the bombing of London and the secret Manhattan Project in the United States. Having survived an aerial bombing where his best friend dies, Stephen is sent to the U.S. to be with his dad, who works on an army project in New Mexico. Code names for scientists, restricted areas for families, guard dogs and M.P.s all heighten Stephen's inquisitiveness about the work of his dad. When another physicist is critically injured, Stephen and his new friend Alexi start poking around the base looking for more clues. What they find can be deadly to many people in many different ways. This book is a welcome change from Zindel's mutated animals of recent writings (Loch, Raptor, Reef of Death), but like those, is fast paced. Characters do not have much depth, but it is sufficient to keep the reader interested. There is no real explanation as to why Stephen is sent by his mother from England to his dad in the middle of the war and this adds little to the story, except to further illustrate that Stephen acts first, then thinks later. A quick read. 2001, HarperCollins, $15.89. Ages 10 up. Reviewer:Mary Sue Preissner
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-A suspenseful and fast-paced read. In 1944, 13-year-old Stephen is living in London amid the constant threat of German air raids that have already taken the life of his favorite cousin and soul mate. Fearing for his safety, Stephen's mother sends him by boat, then train, to join his father, an American physicist, in Los Alamos, NM. The boy's new home is on "Bathtub Row" of "Site Y," a tightly secured military base surrounded by high fences and attentive guards. Anxious to be united with his father, he is disappointed to find the man distracted and tired from working on a project he is unwilling to discuss. The mystery enveloping the base piques Stephen's curiosity and he accidentally ends up in the hospital room of a dying man who warns him about "the gadget." He is befriended by an older boy and, in a dramatic climax, they secretly follow the scientists off base and witness a horrific explosion, the first atomic bomb test on July 16, 1945, in the Jornada del Muerto Desert. In an epiphany, Stephen realizes the magnitude of this event and through his eyes, so do readers. Zindel's attention to historical accuracy is evident throughout. Unfortunately, Stephen's story is not as carefully crafted. Special circumstances and conveniences allow him to always be in the right place at the right time and a few incidents strain credibility. Overall, though, this book is an exciting introduction to the time period.-Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440229513
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 2/11/2003
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 407,267
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Product dimensions: 4.19 (w) x 6.88 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Zindel (1936-2003) was born and raised on Staten Island in New York. After teaching high school science for several years, he decided to pursue a career as a playwright. His first play, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Shortly thereafter, he wrote his first novel for young adults, The Pigman, which has gone on to sell millions of copies. Mr. Zindel wrote more than fifty books over the course of his life, including the popular My Darling, My Hamburger; The Pigman’s Legacy, a sequel to The Pigman; and the autobiographical The Pigman and Me.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

October 16, 1944

Stephen waited until his mother and aunt were out in the kitchen making coffee before he slipped away from the family dinner table. He grabbed the binoculars from the sideboard. His cousin Jackson got the crystal radio set out of the hall closet, and the two boys headed for the door.

"Snoopy bruthas!" Jackson's four-year-old sister, Molly, yelled out, pointing at them. "Snoopy bruthas!"

Everyone knew she was trying to say Stephen and Jackson were nosey--and looked like brothers--and it was true. Both were gangly with thick, brown hair and squared, sturdy chins.

Stephen certainly had been an inquisitive kid ever since he could crawl. One Christmas he was taken to Macy's department store and he asked the Santa Claus if he used 5 Day deodorant pads. Another time he had a one-eyed baby sitter and used to pretend to fall asleep so he could watch her take out tier glass eye and put it in a case for the night. And Jackson had never been a slouch in the curiosity department either. He'd never left a door closed nor anyone's package unopened.

The boys were halfway out the door when Stephen's mother came back and spotted them.

"Be careful,"' she said. "If you hear the air-raid sirens, you both get back down here straight away."

"Right, Mom," Stephen said.

Molly laughed and ran to her phonograph. She started winding it up so she could sway and sing to "G.I. Jive" until she drove everyone crazy.

Jackson led the way up the stairs of the apartment house two at a time. They heard the sounds of other families behind the closed doors: the clinking of dishesbeing washed and stacked; Mr. Erikson playing scales on his piano; near the sixth floor the smell of shepherd's pie and baking apples. The Rohr twins were getting tangled tip ni a leash as they came down the stairs with their new spaniel puppy.

Above the top floor Jackson pushed open the heavy metal door to the roof. He and Stephen scooted to their favorite niche in the shadow of a squat, rusting water tank. Every night since Stephen and his mother had arrived in London, Jackson and lie had made it a ritual to sit beneath the stars or watch the fog creep in from the Thames.

"I Arish it was summer and we were horseback riding or catching salamanders again," Stephen said.

"Me too. Kirkby River was the best," Jackson said. "The turtles. And the rope swing."

"Remember the leeches? The ones on your back and your horse's legs!"

"You're going to make me throw up," Jackson said.

The boys laughed as they set tip their home made crystal radio--a small coil with magnets and wires mounted in the bottom of a shoe box. Stephen dragged the end of a sharpened wire over the surface of the quartz. There was static, then the faint voice of a woman singing.

"Let's see if we can get Portugal again," Stephen said, moving the wire toward the center of the crystal.

"Or Amsterdam."

The radio voices faded in and out.

I think I hear German," Jackson said. "That's what it sounds like."

Stephen strained to hear. He was still trying to make out the voice when there came another sound he did recognize. But it wasn't coming from the radio. He felt his stomach tighten.

"Airplanes," he said looking to the night sky. "Where are they?"

Jackson got to his feet. "I don't know," he said.

Warning sirens began to shriek.

"We'd better go back down," Stephen said. "They're going to want to get us to the shelter."

Jackson pointed toward the horizon. "Look, here they come." He grabbed the binoculars and looked through them. "It could be our planes. R.A.F. coming back from a raid."

There was a distant flash of fight and the high are of antiaircraft fire. "No. It's Luftwaffe. German planes. They're bombing," Jackson shouted. "Come on." He turned and ran back across the soft tar of the roof and its grid of drainpipes. Stephen followed on his cousin's heels to the roof door. Jackson began banging on the thick sheet of steel.

"What's the matter?" Stephen said.

"It's locked. We forgot to prop it open."

"Let me try."

Stephen was twelve, a year and a half older than Jackson. He was stronger, and he put his shoulder next to Jackson's. Together they grunted, strained to force open the door. It wouldn't budge. Jackson grabbed a piece of jagged loose pipe and tried to wedge it like a crowbar between the door and its frame. The racket of planes and bombing was nearer.


A single bomb exploded. The sky around them began to glow-splashes of yellow and purple mixed with thick curls of black smoke and the shouts of frightened people on the street. The boys frantically kicked the door, trying to jolt it off its hinges.


Another bomb. Nearer.

There was sudden fear in Jackson's eyes. He looked dazed now. Confused. Stephen pulled him down to huddle between an air duct and the low, tiled roof wall. We'll be safe here, Stephen thought. The bombing will stop and there'll be the all-clear siren and...

Now the bombs fell in clusters, so near they could hear them whistling down before the roof-shuddering blasts. Then there was another high-pitched noise, the mounting scream of a falling rocket bomb. Jackson jumped up, terrified. He had seen what a V-2 could do.

Stephen grabbed his arm.

"Jackson! Stay down."

His cousin clapped his hands over his ears, shook free of Stephen's hand, and ran from the shriek.

"No!" Stephen yelled. "Come back."

The noise was deafening. The rocket bomb hit on the left, and the entire building shook violently...

The Gadget. Copyright © by Paul Zindel. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

The Reality of War

Social studies classes study the world’s wars and the impact war has on a global society. Students learn about ancient wars and the more modern wars that have been fought in the name of freedom. They know about the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World Wars I and II. Some students know about the Korean War, the Vietnam Conflict, and the Persian Gulf War. Before the events of September 11, 2001, students in America’s schools knew little about the personal tragedies related to war. War was simply something that happened in books, in another time, and on foreign lands. Now, war surrounds them–on television, radio, and in film. Some know firsthand what it feels like to lose a parent to terrorists, and others wait eagerly in front of the television in hopes of gaining a glimpse of a family member or friend who may be in the Iraqi desert or on the streets of Baghdad. Like the main characters in the novels in this guide, the innocence of America’s children has been marked by violence. A new page of history is being written every day, and it is being done before the eyes of the world’s youngest citizens.

For this reason, it is extremely important that parents and teachers talk with children about war, and offer hope that the world might someday find a peaceful solution to global conflict. Sometimes it is difficult to find the words to explain the complex issues of war, but books are always a good way to spark understanding and conversation. This guide offers discussion for the following books: The Gadget by Paul Zindel; Girl of Kosovo by Alice Mead; Lord of the Nutcracker Men by Iain Lawrence; Flags of our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers, adapted for young people by Michael French; Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian; and For Freedom by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

Pre-Reading Activity
Engage students in a discussion about the recent war in Iraq, and how it was reported in the news. Divide the class into three groups, and assign each group one of the major newspapers or magazines to read. Ask that they read a few issues of the publications during the time of the war and take note of the major headlines, the views of the journalists, etc. Allow students time at the end of each week to share their findings. What conclusions can be drawn about the role of journalists in war?

1. Stephen is told that he is to trust no one. Discuss how difficult it is to live without trust. What makes Stephen think that he can trust Alexei Nagavatsky? Why does Sewa, Dr. Orr’s housekeeper, warn Stephen about Alexei? How does Stephen betray his father’s trust? What lessons does Stephen learn about trust, betrayal, and truth?

2. Trace Stephen’s fits of anger throughout the novel. How does life on the Los Alamos base contribute to his anger? Describe Stephen’s anger when he finds out about The Gadget. How does Dr. Orr’s explanation of the project outrage Stephen?

3. Dr. Orr tells Stephen, “We were all told we could help the war end.” (p. 149) Discuss whether the government was deceptive with the scientists. How does Dr. Orr avoid being angry with the government?

4. Ask readers to discuss why Stephen is so obsessed with finding out the secret mission at Los Alamos. Why does Sewa feel that Alexei has secrets? What is Stephen’s reaction when he discovers his dad’s secret project? How does Dr. Orr deal with the knowledge that Stephen knows the secret?

5. Discuss why Los Alamos is called “a town that doesn’t exist.” (p. 16) What measures does the government take to make Los Alamos safe and secure for the scientists and their families? How does the government’s security system fail?

6. Compare and contrast the security measures at Los Alamos during World War II to the homeland security issues in the United States today.

For more activities on Images of War, see these titles: For Freedom by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Lord of the Nutcracker by Iain Lawrence, Girl of Kosovo by Alice Mead, Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers adapted for young people by Michael French, The Gadget by Paul Zindel, and Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian.

Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, Greenville, SC.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 10, 2013

    A fast, easy read. Poor Stephen didn't know who the bad guys wer

    A fast, easy read. Poor Stephen didn't know who the bad guys were, when it was freaking obvious halfway in. I would recommend this book to kids interested in history.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2008

    The Gadget

    The story takes place in the beginning of World War II. A young thirteen old boy followed his father to Los Ammos, New Mexico. His name is Steven and his dad is in the army. His father tries to help the Americans in World War II. Steven meets some friends in New Mexico. This book is historical fiction, but it has amazing action parts.<BR/>This book reminds me of the movie Pearl Harbor, which also takes place in World War II. So, if you like this summary about The Gadget, then you should read this book. This book is written by Paul Zindel. Paul Zindel was born May 15th 1936, in New York City Staten Island. <BR/> I recommend this book fifth grade and up, also for young adults.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2008

    My review of 'The Gadget'

    Overall while I was reading the gadget, the plot was good but not great. I got confused a little bit because I didn't know one of the characters name. They said it was Alexei but it was really Tilanov. The plot was good and i could understand what was going to happen next. I thought that the story could have been a little longer. While I was reading the story, I read it in like 2 hours. Other than that the plot could also use more details. That is what I thought could have been better. I would recommend this book to a teenager because the book is kind of hard to understand. I would also recommend this book to people who like mystery books. Also this book had to do with world war 2. So people who like world war 2 books would most likely kie this one. that is whom I would recommend this book to.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2006

    Alexei or Tilanov?????????

    On page thirty eight Stephen meets up with Alexei but on the back cover of the book it says that Alexeis name is Tilanov. I got confused and couldnt understand which was the kids name?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2006

    The Gadget

    The book I¿m reviewing is the gadget. The author of this book is Paul Zindel. It is about war. The kid named Stephen has a dad in the army. He invents a bomb or a gadget to stop Hitler. This book deserves five starts. There are action parts like bombing. Stephen is put in a camp with his mom for safety. His friend is Alexei. They go to his farm a few times. People are after Stephen because his dad is important. I would recommend this book to my friend because it is very action packed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2005


    Paul Zindel's 'The Gadget' is a good book that tells about a young boy named Stephen who is on an adventure to find out what the so called 'Gadget' is. Stephen is a boy who grew up in London,England with his mother, grandparents, and his best friend and cousin Jackson. He lived there during the German air rades(when they dropped bombs on London), and when that occurred people had to get to the basements of their houses and try to stay as far away as possible from the bombs or they could have gotten extremely hurt. On one day this had occured Stephen and his family had gotten unlucky because they had loss Jackson in one of the air raids because Stephen and Jackson had not got back early enough to withstand the bombs. So life went on and Stephen's mom decided to let Stephen live with his father. His father was a scientist who was working on 'The Gadget' on a private base called Los Alamos. There were some of the best scientists working on that project in Los Alamos and his father was one of them. When he gets there he meets a new friend named Alexei whose father works on the base also. While he is there one of the scientists gets really hurt and he goes and visits him in the doctor and tries to find out as much as he can about 'the gadget'. He goes through a couple of changes while on his journey to find out what 'the gadget' is. I would recommend this book to any one who is into a lot of adventure and mystery.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2005

    Its a good book for a teen.

    I think this is a good book, but not the best. It could have used a little more twist and turns but overall it is decent. The Gadget has its good parts in the story. How the author tells you everything about everone, and how he puts things into great perspective and detail.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2005

    The A-Bomb

    The book the Gadget is about a boy named Stephen who moves from London to live with his father a military scientist on a top-sercet military base called Los Alamos.His father is there working on a weapon that will end the war with Hilter the weapons code name is the 'The Gadget'.After living on the base for a week Stephen finds a boy named Alexei.His father is there working on the The Gadget too.During the build of the Gadget one of the scintists get sprayed with a lethal dose of radioactivity.Stephen and Alexei find the scientist in the hospital.They ask him what he knows about The Gadget.After hearing what the scientist has to say the two boys are determined to find out everything they can about The Gadget

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2003


    awsome book loved it gonna read it again recoment it to everyone even my mom SWEET

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2003


    This is a cool book.All the suspence you need.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2003


    THe book is great.Its not boring and you learn espessialy to people who like war and weopons.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2003

    A touching story of too much power

    This was a story of a boy living in London who moved to America to live with his dad. His dad is a scientist working on an extremely dangerous gadget. The boy tries to solve the mysteries of the gadget. This is an extremely suspenseful story and I really liked it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2003

    Awsome Book

    This book is impossible to put down

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2001

    The Gadget

    The Gadget is a very supenseful book. It starts right at the begining. It is about a boy that lives in England and then moves to New Mexico with his father, where he (his Father) is a agent working on 'The Gadget'. They book is very intresting start to finish. I would reccomend it to anyone who likes an intresting book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2001

    ITs A definite want to read!

    This is one of the great books i have read, it isnt as good as Loch, Doom Stone Raptor , or Reef of Death but it still is better than most other books from other authors.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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