The Gadget

The Gadget

4.1 14
by Paul Zindel

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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

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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.

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.
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

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
4.19(w) x 6.88(h) x 0.54(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

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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