Friday, March 13, 2015

Year of the Bomb review

The Year of the Bomb
by Ronald Kidd
Simon & Schuster
June 2009

First line: "There were Martians in the backyard."

In Sierra Madre, California, 1955, Paul and his three best friends Oz, Crank and Arnie are obsessed with monster movies. The War of the Worlds inspired opening, where Martians have seemingly landed, will not fail to draw readers in.  Paul and his friends are overjoyed to learn that Invasion of the Body Snatchers will be coming to film in their downtown.

It really is amazing to think that this juxtaposition of events: monster movies and world altering break-throughs in physics, including work on nuclear bombs, were all happening within a 15 mile radius. While Paul and his friends enjoy a lot of freedom - they ride their bikes, or bus around town, with no fear of crime, the negative sides to the 1950's are also highlighted. Hollywood Boulevard has yet to become a seedy (and later still, commercialized and gentrified) place.  The book touches lightly on the Hollywood blacklist as well as the pressures that families (especially fathers) felt at that time to financially keep up with the Joneses.  

There's a wonderful contrast in this novel between the (artificial) fear that Paul loves to inspire in himself watching monster movie matinees vs. the very real daily fears that he struggles with.  He genuinely fears nuclear attack, and family dynamics are tense as his father slogs away in a top-secret military job that he hates in order to pay the bills.  The other boys families have similar problems.  Paul is soon drawn into some FBI intrigue, as one of the female extras on the set (who Paul immediately develops an innocent crush on) starts spying on her fellow castmates, looking for signs of Communist sympathizers.

I thought it strained credulity that the four boys would gain such easy access to the movie set, as well as famed physicist Richard Feynman's office.  They literally show up and start grilling Feynman with questions.  Feynman answers them in full and pours his heart out to the boys.  Still, it's an enjoyable read and Kidd definitely manages to transport you to another time.

Compare to:
Rex Zero and the End of the World - Tim Wynne-Jones
Penny From Heaven - Jennifer L. Holm
Okay for Now - Gary D. Schmidt

I borrowed this book from the library.

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