Today, we're reviewing Cold War on Maplewood Street, a short middle grade look at life in the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Gayle Rosengren captures both the domestic and global tension of the period, while also showing through Johanna, how global events can hit close to home.
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published August 4th 2015 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Format read: ARC via publisher
Through Johanna's eyes, readers learn how this chapter in history hit close to home, alongside the fears and hopes of ordinary individuals.
But then President Kennedy comes on TV with frightening news about Soviet missiles in Cuba—and that’s where Sam’s heading. Suddenly Joanna’s worries about being home alone, building up the courage to talk to a cute boy, and not being allowed to go to the first boy-girl party in her grade don’t seem so important. Maybe sometimes there are good reasons to break a promise.
The tense timeline of the Cuban missile crisis unfolds alongside a powerful, and ultimately hopeful, story about what it means to grow up in a world full of uncertainty.
Gayle Rosengren seeks to answer those questions in Cold War on Maplewood Street, a short but powerful middle grade novel, told through the eyes of Johanna. She's been struggling at home since her beloved older brother Sam joined the Navy, leaving both her and her mother on their own.
But when tensions arise as the Missile Crisis begins, and Johanna figures out that her brother is headed to the front lines of Cuba, Johanna's life quickly takes on complications that she never envisioned.
What I appreciated the most about Cold War on Maplewood Street foremost, was Rosengren's decision to write a book that fit into the specific timeline of the Cuban Missile Crisis. By making the decision to focus specifically on how the events of those thirteen days unfolds for Johanna and her world, Rosengren profoundly emphasizes the tension and fear of the period.
This was a time when anything could happen, including possibilities that hadn't even been considered by Johanna and her friends. Her struggles to understand and prepare for that fact, intermixed with her day-to-day hopes of trying to talk to the cute boy in class, and trying to learn how to forgive her brother, all undercut the resilience of individuals to just live, even when faced with extraordinary circumstances.
Outside of Johanna's core storyline, Rosengren adds some interesting backstories into the lives of the neighbors who live in the building, and the life lessons that Johanna learns from her interactions with them. She's remind that people who may be intimidating are just as human as she is, and that even if a life seems perfect, there may often be frayed edges that come out in unexpected ways.
Bottom line: Sometimes, some of the best stories come in the smallest of packages. In a brief 192 pages, Rosengren has captured the tension and anxieties of one of the most complex periods in US history, and humanized them through the eyes of Johanna.
Through Johanna's struggles with reconciling with her brother's departure, and her worries about the possible crisis, we see not only the resilience of the human spirit against adversity, but also humanity's ability to forgive, especially in the most challenging of times. I highly recommend this book for all readers, full stop.
About the author:
Gayle Rosengren grew up in Chicago. Like Joanna in Cold War on Maplewood Street, she enjoyed school, was a voracious reader, and loved dogs and horses.
Now Gayle writes full-time just outside of Madison, Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband, Don, and their slightly neurotic rescue dog, Fiona. She is living her dream, she says, writing books she hopes will make the same difference in children’s lives as her favorite authors made in hers. Cold War on Maplewood Street is her second novel for young readers.