From the Publisher
"A rich, satisfing story about early adolescence." (Starred Review) Booklist, ALA, Starred Review
"Cushman creates another introspective female character who is planted firmly in her time and who grows in courage [and] self-awareness." School Library Journal, Starred
"The dialogue is sharp...[in] this story of friends and foes, guilt and courage." (Starred Review) Kirkus Reviews, Starred
"A compelling look at what can happen when one girl finds the courage to speak out for what she believes." Bookpage
"Serious issues are balanced by Francine's self-deprecating sense of humor...to produce a wonderful snapshot of the times." VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)
"Cushman has the gift of making the past immediate...this time the connections to the present seem particularly apropos." Horn Book
"Francine is an engaging and convincing character." Horn Book Guide, Pointer
Cushman takes on many issues in this novel set in Hollywood at the peak of McCarthyism, unfortunately diluting the power of any one of them. As the book opens, narrator Francine learns that her neighbor Sophie Bowman will be joining her eighth grade class at All Saints School for Girls. The deliciously named Sister Basil the Great, the principal who doubles as their teacher, quickly singles out Sophie as the student to hold up as an example, sentencing the girl to stand in the wastebasket throughout class. Cushman draws parallels between the strict authority of the Catholic school and the constraints of McCarthyism on everyday citizens. Sophie's father, a screenwriter, allows readers to see the havoc wreaked upon his peers (one, a Jewish actor being shadowed by the FBI and pressured to give up names, commits suicide), and the Russian owners of a vandalized local store voice the irony of their situation ("That's why Petrov and I left Russia, to get away from such thugs"). Yet these connections may be a bit abstract for some readers, who will more likely respond to details of Francine's daily life-taking her younger brother past Newberry Five and Ten, ordering root beer floats at Riley's or having a crush on Montgomery Clift. The author introduces the idea of Sophie's tendency to egg on controversy but never fully develops it, and Francine remains quite aloof from the world. She is less sympathetic than Cushman's previous memorable heroines (in Catherine, Called Birdy; The Midwife's Apprentice). Ages 10-14. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Set between August 1949 and June 1950, Karen Cushman's latest historical novel depicts post-World War II California as the US confronts the Communist scare. Francine Green and her friend Sophie Bowman dream of movie star Montgomery Clift and attend eighth grade at All Saints School. New to Catholic school, Sophie challenges the nuns on many issues, from why they should pray to God to win a basketball game to comparing the school to fascism. Sophie's father, a screenwriter, worries about his livelihood as the FBI questions the loyalty of actors and others in Hollywood, calling many of them communists or communist sympathizers. When Francine asks her father about what's happening, her father says, "not to get involved." At home Francine watches her father build a bomb shelter in the backyard out of concern about the Soviet Union and the hydrogen bomb. Finally, when Sophie is expelled from school for her outspokenness and she and her father move away due to blacklisting, Francine finds her courage and speaks up. An author's note describes the "Red Scare" and suggests sources for learning more about life in the US in the early 1950s. This Newbery award-winning author of The Midwife's Apprentice and Catherine, Called Birdy portrays a difficult time in American history, bringing to life the unique blend of innocence and uncertainty of the Cold War's early days. 2006, Clarion Books, Ages 10 to 14.
Valerie O. Patterson
Francine Green, an eighth grader living in Los Angeles in 1949, has been encouraged by her parents and the nuns at her school to be obedient, well-behaved, quiet, uninvolved, and to never, ever think for herself. But now she has a new best friend, Sophie Bowman, who was kicked out of public school for protesting the lack of free speech. Sophie is as outspoken as Francine is silent, as unafraid of getting in trouble as Francine fears it. Francine is confused and troubled by U.S. plans to develop an H-Bomb (in response to Russia's A-Bomb), McCarthyism, and the alleged threat of communism. She watches her father dig a fallout shelter in their backyard, wonders how the "drop-and-cover" strategy will protect her from powerful bombs, and learns that Sophie's screenwriter father and his actor friend (who later commits suicide) are blacklisted. And at last, she speaks her mind. These serious issues are balanced by Francine's self-deprecating sense of humor and the description of 1950s-era Los Angeles with its soda fountains, record shops, and movie stars, to produce a wonderful snapshot of the times. In an author's note, Newbery-Award-winning Cushman offers a brief political history of the 1950s, and in a short interview she emphasizes the importance of protecting our constitutional rights, especially the First Amendment. She draws on her memories of attending a Catholic school in Los Angeles in the 1950s to write this most contemporary of her books so far. It is a gem. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2006, Clarion, 240p., $16. Ages 11 to 15.
Florence H. Munat
The past that Cushman (Newbery Medal winner for The Midwife's Apprentice) re-creates in this work of historical fiction is much more recent than her medieval stories??here, two girlfriends attend Catholic school in Los Angeles in 1949. The narrator, Francine, is part of a solid family; she is conservative and "silent," yet her best friend is her opposite: Sophie challenges everything she hears and doesn't hesitate to speak out. Sophie lives with her father and they are friends with a screenwriter who is being investigated as a Communist, in danger of being blacklisted. Sophie organizes protests and she questions such horrors as the atom bomb??in fact she is an avid "Ban the Bomb" activist. When people's right to free speech is in danger, Sophie speaks out, even when she gets in big trouble at school with the nuns, who are about as politically conservative as they could possibly be. (These are not the days of the Catholic peace activists in the 1960s.) Cushman's exceptional skill at creating characters is evident as Francine slowly begins to at least harbor doubts about the correctness of everything she has been taught??still, Francine remains silent, even as Sophie's life disintegrates under the pressure of the House on Un-American Activities Committee. In the end, Francine understands that silence means complicity. Cushman has a lengthy note at the end of the story, and includes a brief bibliography and a Q&A section in which she reveals that when she was a student at a Catholic school in the 1950s, she was cautioned to not question authority. She says she wrote this story because she is afraid today's students do not understand how important it is to defend ourFirst Amendment rights, especially freedom of speech. KLIATT Codes: J*Exceptional book, recommended for junior high school students. 2006, Houghton Mifflin, Clarion, 228p. bibliog., Ages 12 to 15.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-Cushman creates another introspective female character who is planted firmly in her time and who grows in courage, self-awareness, and conviction. This novel follows Francine's eighth-grade year, from August 1949 to June 1950, at All Saints School for Girls in Los Angeles, a year of changes largely inspired by a new transfer student, Sophie Bowman. While Francine is quiet and committed to staying out of trouble, happy to daydream of Hollywood movie stars and to follow her father's advice not to get involved in controversy, Sophie questions authority and wants to make a difference. Her questioning of the nuns' disparaging comments about "the Godless" communists frequently leads to her being punished and eventually to her expulsion from school. Francine begins to examine her own values, particularly when an actor friend of Sophie's father is blacklisted and Mr. Bowman loses his scriptwriting job. At the novel's end, Francine is poised to stand up to Sister Basil, the bullying principal, and exercise her freedom of speech. Cushman captures the era well, with references that range from Dragnet to "duck and cover" drills in schools and her father's aborted attempt to build a bomb shelter in their backyard. Francine Green is reminiscent of Jamie Morse, another 13-year-old and the protagonist of Ellen Levine's Catch a Tiger by the Toe (Viking, 2005), who is also coming of age in the shadow of McCarthyism and the beginnings of the Cold War. Readers will relate to the pervasive fear of the period as it resonates in our post-9/11 world.-Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
It's 1949, and 13-year-old Francine Green lives in "the land of 'Sit down, Francine' and 'Be quiet, Francine' " at All Saints School for Girls in Los Angeles. When she meets Sophie Bowman and her father, she's encouraged to think about issues in the news: the atomic bomb, peace, communism and blacklisting. This is not a story about the McCarthy era so much as one about how one girl-who has been trained to be quiet and obedient by her school, family, church and culture-learns to speak up for herself. Cushman offers a fine sense of the times with such cultural references as President Truman, Hopalong Cassidy, Montgomery Clift, Lucky Strike, "duck and cover" and the Iron Curtain. The dialogue is sharp, carrying a good part of this story of friends and foes, guilt and courage-a story that ought to send readers off to find out more about McCarthy, his witch-hunt and the First Amendment. Though not a happily-ever-after tale, it dramatizes how one person can stand up to unfairness, be it in front of Senate hearings or in the classroom. (author's note) (Fiction. 10-14)
Read an Excerpt
1 August 1949 Books and Beanies and Montgomery Clift
“Holy cow!” I said when Sophie Bowman told me she’d be joining me at All Saints School for Girls this year. “Why now, in the eighth grade?” “Because I got thrown out of public school.” Sophie and I were in the room I shared with my sister, Dolores. Dolores was on a date with her steady, Wally, so Sophie lay on Dolores’ bed, her legs in the air, twirling the navy blue beanie from my school uniform on her foot. “It was either Catholic school or boarding school. No one else would have me, but Sister Basil thought my soul could still be saved.
From what I can tell, she’s nuts about saving souls.” I sat up cross-legged on my bed. “Why?” I asked her. “That’s what she learned in nun school, I suppose.” “No,” I said. “Why did you get kicked out of school?” “Oh, that. For writing ‘There is no free speech here’ on the gym floor. In paint. Red paint.” She grinned at me as though that was the most wonderful thing in the world. I didn’t grin back. “Why on earth would you do that?” “Because the principal banned radios in the lunchroom.” “Radios? You ruined the gym floor because of radios?” She waved her beanied foot about. “Not just radios, dopey. It was a matter of free speech. Standing up for what you believe in. And fighting fascism.” Fascism? Wasn’t that about Adolf Hitler? Did she mean Nazis kept her from playing the radio in the lunchroom? “Harry says that he may agree with the sentiment, but the expression left a lot to be desired,” she continued, stretching her long, summer-brown legs. I sighed and looked at my legs. They were pink and freckled like the rest of me. “Who’s Harry?” I asked her.
“My father. My mother went to Catholic school and he thinks she was nearly perfect, so off I go.” I knew from Hettie Morris across the street, who knew Laurel Greenson, whose aunt was Mrs. O’Brien, who lived next door to the Bowmans, that Sophie’s mother had died when she was born. “He wants me to be more like her and learn to express myself with patience, self-control, and moderation.” Sophie would be going to the right place. At All Saints we had patience, self-control, and moderation to spare and not a drop of free speech. I myself was so patient, moderate, and self-controlled that sometimes I felt invisible, and I liked it that way. Let others get noticed and into trouble. Let Sophie get into trouble. It seemed a sure bet that she would. Sophie and I weren’t friends or anything, although she lived only a block down from me on Palm View Drive, in a pink stucco bungalow a lot like the one I lived in. We had nodded to each other over the years, and even played Red Light, Green Light together with the other neighborhood kids on hot summer nights. Now she had come over after dinner to learn more about All Saints, recognizing from my uniform that I was a student there. I couldn’t imagine Sophie at All Saints, couldn’t see her standing patiently in line in a plaid skirtnot the long-legged Sophie Bowman of the thick blond hair, outspoken opinions, and that lovely name, Sophie Bowman. Long mournful O sounds, so moody and romantic. Me?
Francine Green, with Es like eeek and screech and beanie. Holy cow.
“I seriously hate beanies,” Sophie said. “They make you look so drippy. Why do we have to wear uniforms like we’re in jail?” “It’s not the same at all,” I said.
“Jails have much better uniforms. Black and white stripes, you know, are very fashionable this year.” “They are?” “I was kidding, Sophie.” “Oh.” Sophie wagged her beanied foot at me. “Maybe,” she said, “we should find some way to express our individuality even if we’re condemned to uniforms.” “You mean like wearing red shoes?” I asked.
“Yes!” she said, raising her arm with her fist clenched.
“And plastic jewelry and white blouses with cleavage?” “It would be spectacular. Let’s do it,” she said. I pretended interest in my bedspread.
Bunny ballerinas. Ye gods. “No, I couldn’t,” I said finally.
“We’d get in trouble. And I have no red shoes or anything with cleavage. Or any cleavage.” We looked down at our chests and sighed. “Oh nausea,” Sophie said.
My bedroom windows rattled, and I could hear palm fronds scraping along the street. Los Angeles and I were enduring a period of Santa Anas, the hot winds from the east that made tempers and temperatures rise and your skin itch. I got up to open the window in hopes of some cooler night air. “Look,” I said, “searchlights.
There’s a movie premiere somewhere.” Sophie got up and stood next to me at the window.
“Don’t you love living so near Hollywood?” I asked her. “I mean, movie stars are right there, at the bottom of that light. Gary Cooper, maybe. Or Clark Gable. Or Montgomery Clift.
Imagine, right there. Montgomery Clift.” “Montgggggummy who?” Sophie asked.
“Are you kidding me? Montgomery Clift.
He’s only the dreamiest dreamboat in the whole world, with the saddest brown eyes.” I sighed and looked again at the searchlight connecting me to Montgomery Clift. “He’s my absolute favorite. Who’s yours?” “I don’t know much about movie stars,” Sophie said.
“But Hettie Morris said your father writes for the movies.” “He writes them, he doesn’t go see them. He wants us to read books to improve our minds. Good books.
Serious books. Boring books.” “He sounds a bit like Sister Basil.
She’s always assigning holy, dull-as-dishwater books. Don’t you get tired of improving your mind?” I asked her. “I would.” “Sure, sometimes. But you can’t improve the world until you improve your mind, I always say.” She smiled. “Actually I don’t always say that. I just made it up. Pretty good, don’t you think?” I nodded. “But jeepers, you could take a day off now and then. Just read a novel or a comic book or something.” “Okay, like what?” “Well,” I said to her, “you have come to the right place. There is nothing here that will improve your mind.” I walked over to my dresser and examined the clutter on top. Dolores had a pink-skirted dressing table in our room, so there was no space for me to have a desk. I thought that said something about what was important in the Green household. “Let’s see. Archie comic? Donald Duck?” The only book I owned was Stuart Little, which my aunt Martha and uncle George had sent me for Christmas last year. I held it up. “How about this,” I asked her, “about a family with a son who’s a mouse?” Sophie frowned.
“Okay, you’re a little old for that.” I tossed her a copy of Modern Screen magazine. “Take this. It has a story about Montgomery Clift. You can borrow him until you get a favorite of your own.” “Don’t you think movie stars and fan magazines are a bit frivolous and juvenile?” She took the magazine anyway and hopped back to Dolores’ bed. The magazine fell right open to a picture of Monty. Sophie took out the dried banana peel I had used as a place marker and studied the photo. “Jeepers,” she said, “he is good-looking. Kind of shy and haunted, like he’s been persecuted and misunderstood.” The telephone in the hall rang. I could hear my little brother, Artie, answer it, “Duffy’s Tavern, Archie the Manager speaking,” just like the guy on the radio show. Artie liked Duffy’s Tavern. He said he would own a tavern just like Duffy’s when he grew up if he wasn’t going to be a cowboy. Artie says things like that. He’s five.
“Is it for me?” I called to him.
“It’s for Dolores, like it always is,” he said, sticking his head in. His yellow cowlick was standing straight up from the back of his head, and his glasses hung from the very tip of his nose. “Where is she?” “Out,” I told him, “like she always is.” Artie left. I flopped back onto my bed. “It’s so depressing being the sister of Miss Popularity. I’m surprised I don’t have a complex.” “Do you get along with her?” “Are you kidding? Dolores hates me. If she could, I think she she’d return me, like underwear that doesn’t fit.” Sophie looked puzzled. “I don’t think you can return under” “Never mind. It was just a joke. I meant that she’d like to get rid of me. I wish she was someone else’s sister.” “Still, she’s your family. I think you’d be awfully lonely being an only child.” “Are you?” I asked her. “No,” she said, “but I think you would be.” I leaped up and began jumping furiously on my bed. “We’re acrobats on the trampoline,” I shouted as I bounced onto Dolores’ bed, “and we’re gorgeous and popular and everybody loves us and we’re never lonely and” Dolores blew in like the Santa Ana wind. “Stop it!” she shouted. I stopped. “Get off my bed. And get her off!” I jumped down. “This is Sophie. She’s a friend of mine from school. Or she will be when” “I don’t care. Get her off my bed. And get out of here. Both of you.” “It’s my room, too.” “Who cares?” Sophie got off the bed. Dolores flopped onto it and kicked her shoes across the room. Sophie walked regally to the door, stopped, and looked back over her shoulder. “Gee, Francine,” she said, “she’s not nearly as pretty as you said.” Dolores stuck her tongue out, and Sophie stuck hers right back.
“Wow, Sophie,” I said once we were safely out the door. “That was great.” We slapped hands.
In the hall we bumped into Artie and his stuffed bear, Chester. Rice Krispies spilled from Artie’s pockets and snap-krackle-popped as we walked over them. Sophie looked at me quizzically. “He carries them in his pockets in case of sudden starvation,” I told her.
“Little kids are such a mess,” she said, scraping Rice Krispies off her shoe. “I can’t stand them.” “Artie’s okay. He’s sweet. Unlike Dolores.” Sophie shrugged and left.
I pushed Artie’s glasses back up his nose. “Almost time for Dragnet,” I said, taking his hand. “Dun da dun dun,” he sang, like the Dragnet theme song. Dragnet was one radio show Artie and I wouldn’t miss for anything. We sat on the floor in the living room, our backs against the big radio. When we heard Jack Webb say, “This is the city. Los Angeles, California,” we whooped and clapped. Los Angeles was our city.
After that day Sophie and I were friends. Good friends. On the way to being best friends. It’s funny how that happens, so suddenly, first just neighbors and then best friends. Copyright © 2006 by Karen Cushman.
Reprinted by permission of Clarion Books / Houghton Mifflin Company.