THIS MEANS WAR by Ellen Wittlinger

In Ellen Wittlinger’s new middle grade novel THIS MEANS WAR, Juliet Klostermeyer is a typical bike-riding, roller skating, candy-bar-eating kind of kid, navigating the changes that always come with growing up. Her parents argue, her older sister keeps kicking her out of their shared bedroom to listen to music and talk about boys with her friend, and Juliet’s best guy friend is hanging out with new neighborhood boys instead of her.  Typical kid stuff.

But the year is 1962. The Cuban Missile Crisis is looming large over Juliet’s Air Force base town, and she is afraid. In a voice that is equal parts funny and poignant, Wittlinger captured that feeling perfectly in passages like this one, when Juliet reacts to a news bulletin and speech from President Kennedy on TV:

Juliet had her legs tucked underneath her and her arms wrapped around her chest; she hadn’t moved through the whole speech. "I wanted to watch Mister Ed with Mom," she said, and then the tears began to trickle down her cheeks. It suddenly seemed as if President Kennedy and the Russians and the newscasters had all stolen something precious from her that she could never get back.

And this one…just a few pages later, when Juliet looks to her teacher for reassurance:

Juliet tried to look deep into Mrs. Funkhauser’s eyes to see if she was telling the truth about not being worried. But it was hard to tell with teachers.  They all looked like they had varnish on their faces — it was hard to see if there were any cracks underneath the shine.

(As a teacher, I particularly love that line!)

A contest between the boys and girls of the neighborhood serves as a great way to lighten the feeling of menace for a while, but even that challenge, which starts with things like running races and roller skating, escalates.  It ends up serving as a great allegory for the kind of one-upsmanship that punctuates international relations in this period of history.

Overall, THIS MEANS WAR is a funny and wonderful book that will really give middle grade readers a sense for what it was like to be a kid in October of 1962.  Highly recommended, and it would make a terrific class read-aloud. (Recommendation based on a review copy sent to me by Simon & Schuster)

Now I need to read Deb Wiles’ book COUNTDOWN, also about the Cuban Missile Crisis, which I’ve heard is terrific as well. Sounds like these two would be great paired together with some nonfiction about this period in history!

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24 Replies on “THIS MEANS WAR by Ellen Wittlinger

  1. Who knew?

    I had no idea the Cuban Missile Crisis could resonate with such TALENTed middle grade writers. Thank you for this review and heads up, I am never in need of more things to read, but I love making my to-be-read-pile larger. Soon, it’ll touch the moon.

  2. This Means War

    Sounds like a great book, Kate. Thanks for the review. I’m putting together a resource of books w/ girls who plays sports — this one sounds like it might skim that a bit with the roller skating and bike riding girl. I’ll have to check it out when it comes out. Gianna Z is already on my list for her track star status!

    Kris Asselin

  3. Wow, what are the odds I’d find this blog this morning and then it would be part of W.I.B.I.J. this afternoon! This book is definitely on my to-read pile/shelf/ginormous list of titles. Great quotes, what wonderful language. Thanks for sharing!

  4. this sounds like a great book. i love fun historical fiction. thanks for the review.

  5. I had this book in my to-read pile when you and Cindy Lord blogged about it and decided that I needed to bump it up higher on the list. It was so great!

  6. Re: Who knew?

    My to-read pile is already a major hazard in the living room – if there’s ever an earthquake here, you’ll have to look for me underneath the mountain of books!

  7. Re: This Means War

    The girls in this story are absolutely athletic, though it’s more neighborhood fun than the organized sports we see more of today.

    I think your girls in sports resource will be terrific – drop me an email with your address if you’d like me to send along an advance copy of Sugar and Ice (which has a figure skating main character!)

  8. Historical fiction is a favorite genre of mine, too, especially when historical events are the backdrop for a coming of age story, like this one.

  9. this sounds worth reading
    if one line could sell a book
    varnished faces would


  10. Kate, This book sounds GREAT! I have the ARC from ALA Midwinter and never got around to reading it. Moving it up to the top of my TBR pile. I love Ellen’s work. Thanks for the reminder!

  11. I actually did the same thing (moved it up on the TBR pile) after a couple other LJ friends talked about how great it is. You’ll love it!

  12. This book sounds fantastic! It’s this type of book that is a perfect example of why I love middle grade fiction! I’ll be looking for this one very soon! And I’ll be adding the author to my growing list of MG authors!