Review of “The Green Glass Sea”

Klagas, Ellen.  The Green Glass Sea: A Novel.  Viking, 2006.  ISBN: 0670061344
The Green Glass Sea is about Dewey Kerrigan who goes to Los Alamos to live with her father.  There he and many other scientists and mathematicians are creating “the gadget”, or, the atomic bomb during the 1940s.  She is an eccentric child who has a lame leg and an interest in radio building.  She encounters Suze who is a trouble maker and not accepted by the girls at school either.  They both have to live together in this closed off section of the world while their parents create something important for the Army.
Vardell states that, “Historical fiction may be one of the most difficult genres to promote.  Nearly all children respond to the immediacy of contemporary realistic fiction, and many avid, imaginative readers seek out fantasy novels that are hundreds of pages long” (175).  I understand this statement completely with The Green Glass Sea.  While this novel is based on something interesting for adults, the whole construct of the plot is quite flat.  There isn’t much going on and without the element of the Los Alamos backdrop, this book wouldn’t be terribly interesting.  Granted the characters like Dewey are different but they don’t do much.  I think this is the problem with creating a good historical fiction novel.  Vardell continues that, “the majority of historical fiction for young people is set in the United States prior to 1950”, which this novel is (179).   Using a touchy subject like the atomic bomb which most young readers wouldn’t know about (heck, they don’t understand why 9/11 was such an important day) this would need a whole lot of explanation before giving it to a classroom.
However,  this book did win the Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Award in 2007 and School Library Journal (November 1, 2007) reviews it by saying, “Ellen Klages’s impeccably researched novel (Viking, 2006) is set in Los Alamos, New Mexico, between 1943 and 1945. Dewey Kerrigan, age 11, has been bounced from her parents to her grandmother. When her grandmother can no longer care for her, the girl joins her father at a secret military location. Her father works with preeminent scientists in Los Alamos, racing to research, develop, and build the ultimate military weapon. Work at Los Alamos forces Dewey’s father to travel and a colleague agrees to keep Dewey, who adapts to the new situation, the community, and the school.”  Therefore, using it in a cross-curriculum lesson would work well.  Apparently young readers like this book.  If there were lessons on WWII, the atom bomb and perhaps a book like The Boy in the Stripes Pajamas to give students a real sense of what kinds of impact the war had on people, especially children.  I’d suggest a YA book that discusses Japan during WWII as well, if there is one available.  I just wonder if students could really become interested in this period of history.  Again, since the book is well-received maybe it will be a good way to get them to learn about WWII.

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