The Loud Silence of Francine Green

The Loud Silence of Francine Green

by Karen Cushman

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Francine Green doesn’t speak up much, and who can blame her? Her parents aren’t interested in her opinions, the nuns at school punish girls who ask too many questions, and the House Committee on Un-American Activities is blacklisting people who express unpopular ideas. There’s safety in silence. Francine would rather lose herself in a book, or in daydreams about her favorite Hollywood stars, than risk attracting attention or getting in trouble.

But when outspoken, passionate Sophie Bowman transfers into Francine’s class at All Saints School for Girls, Francine finds herself thinking about things that never concerned her before—free speech, the atom bomb, the existence of God, the way people treat each other. Eventually, Francine discovers that she not only has something to say, she is absolutely determined to say it.

Once again, Karen Cushman follows a young woman’s progress toward her true self, this time exploring the nature of friendship and the experience of growing up Catholic in an era that is both fascinating and relevant to today’s young people. Author’s note.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547350097
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 08/14/2006
Sold by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
File size: 10 MB
Age Range: 10 - 12 Years

About the Author

Karen Cushman was born in Chicago, Illinois and lives now on Vashon Island west of Seattle, Washington. She received an M.A. in human behavior and one in museum studies. Ms. Cushman has had a lifelong interest in history. She says, "I grew tired of hearing about kings, princes, generals, presidents. I wanted to know what ordinary life was like for ordinary young people in other times." Research into medieval English history and culture led to the writing of her first two novels, the Newbery Honor book CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY and the Newbery Medal-winner THE MIDWIFE'S APPRENTICE. She is also the author of MATILDA BONE, THE BALLAD OF LUCY WHIPPLE and, most recently, RODZINA.

Karen Cushman's acclaimed historical novels include Catherine, Called Birdy, a Newbery Honor winner, and The Midwife's Apprentice, which received the Newbery Medal. She lives on Vashon Island in Washington State. Visit her online at and on Twitter @cushmanbooks.

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 skirt—not 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.

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The Loud Silence of Francine Green 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
meggyweg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is quite a timeless story. I mean, it¿s set in the fifties and during the Red Scare, but the characters could be people anywhere, at any time. It teaches a good lesson about prejudice and the need to take a stand for what you believe in. The only problems I had with it were that Sophie was extremely annoying at times, and that I'm afraid people would get the wrong idea of religion, since all the nuns in this story were so evil. But those are minor quibbles -- this is on the whole an excellent book.
tasha on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Cushman, known for her incredible teen novels set in medieval times, breaks from that time period up into the 1950s with great success. This is the story of Francine Green, a teen who lives in Hollywood and adores all things to do with movies, especially Montgomery Clift. Francine is a quiet girl, always worried about doing the right thing and avoiding trouble. When she becomes best friends with fearless Sophie, she struggles with her own need to not be in the spotlight. Sophie is loud, brash and always getting into trouble, often seemingly deliberately. As the world around them begins to change, Francine is forced to examine whether she can stay quiet as McCarthyism begins to affect the people she loves. As always Cushman's prose is inventive, gloriously clear, and inviting. She has created two teenage girls who are polar opposites but manage to be best friends. Both of the teens as well as their very different families ring true with the adults becoming more human throughout the novel. This is an important novel for teens today to read. The parallels between McCarthyism and today's American society are alarming. Teens will feel themselves called to be vocal about the changes we see happening around us today. Recommend this novel for classroom sharing and discussion. It will generate it. I would also recommend it for book talking.
joycer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Set around 1950, Catholic School eighth grader Francine deals with sadistic Sister "Rotten", the communist Cold War scare, decisions about how to choose friends, typical family relationship issues, and just being a pre-teen in Hollywood in the mid-20th century. Characterizations are perhaps a bit too overused or trite (the mean nun, the prissy older sister and bratty but sweet younger brother, the radical friend), but the setting seems right on.
katec9999 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Karen Cushman¿s new historical fiction book is modern compared to her other novels. The Loud Silence of Francine Green takes place in 1950¿s Los Angeles during the height of the Red Scare and McCarthyism. Thirteen year old Francine attends All Saints School for Girls, and is constantly being told, by her parents, her teachers, and her confessor, to keep quiet and do as she is told. On the other hand, her new best friend, Sophie, encourages her, by example, to speak out against what is wrong and to question authority. Francine is both embarrassed and inspired by Sophie¿s fearless antics, which often lead to Sophie¿s standing in the waste basket, Sister Basil¿s favorite form of punishment. Francine¿s friendship with Sophie causes her to wonder if the advice of the adults in her life to ¿keep quiet¿ and ¿don¿t get involved¿ is really the best advice. We see Francine mature in this book, but not too much - the scene where Francine decides to call the Pope for advice reminds us that she is very much still a child. Cushman endows Francine with a genuine and endearing voice. It sometimes feels like Cushman is trying too hard to illustrate the effects that the fear of Communism had on people, with Francine¿s father building a bomb shelter in the backyard, and a family friend of Sophie¿s being blacklisted for his political beliefs. Altogether though, the book works, and by novels end we see a more mature Sophie that has grown in courage and self-confidence.
Librarygirl66 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 1949, thirteen-year-old Francine goes to Catholic school in Los Angeles where she becomes best friends with a girl who questions authority and is frequently punished by the nuns, causing Francine to question her own values.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
HalieM More than 1 year ago
I think The Loud Silence of Francine Green is an amazing book.Francine finds out who her true friends are and gets a new outlook on communtists. Her best friend,Sophie Bowman,is amazing and should be an insperation,and I don't mean for everyone to go get in trouble with their teachers,I mean if you've got something worthwhile to say,say it.I think this shows that you should stick up for your friends,no matter what.I love this book sooo much and I would reccomend it to anyone who asked.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Growing up in the fifties, under the twin threats of the Red Menace 'Russia's missiles aimed at America's heart!' and McCarthyism 'There are Commies all around us!' is not often a topic in young adult fiction. Cushman's novel about Francine's experiences rings true to one who grew up in that era. Unlike Francine who attended parochial school under the strict eyes of the nuns, I went to public school - but we also, learned to duck and cover and wondered if our neighbors might be pinkos or even card carrying Communists. The way to get along was to keep your head down, conform, keep quiet. Francine finds her voice while still a schoolgirl, unlike those of us who weren't awakened until the Civil Rights marches, the Sexual Revolution or the Hippie Era. Reading The Loud Silence of Francine Green may help today's youth understand their parents' or grandparents' generation, and may lead them to look critically at their own times. For those of us who lived in those times, the book is a thoughtful nostalgia trip.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read through about page 48, and this book was just really boring. I was hoping it would get better, because it could have been well written with twists and turns, but there was no life in it. I don't recommend this book at all. It's not worth your time.