Ellen Klages wrote a short story called “In the House of Seven Librarians” in the Firebirds Rising anthology, website edited by Sharyn November. I very much enjoyed this story, prosthesis but I’m pretty bad at remembering to follow up by looking for books by authors I like in anthologies. However, medicine the clearance rack in used bookstores is my friend. I paid fifty cents for this one, but I might even pay full price for the sequel. Anyway, Ms. Klages was born in Ohio (my turf!) but currently lives in San Francisco. She collects old toys and writes short stories; she’s also still working on the sequel, which might come out this year.
Dewey (I won’t even tell you what it’s short for) Kerrigan’s grandmother has just been put into a nursing home; her mother left a long time ago, so she is to go live with her father. She travels quite a distance on train to go live with him; he lives and works in Los Alamos, a town that doesn’t exist. It’s 1943, and Dewey’s father (along with a lot of other people) is working on the atomic bomb, although the kids don’t know that. She doesn’t make friends with the girls very quickly; they’re awfully catty, especially since Dewey has one leg that’s shorter than the other, and is interested in mechanical engineering and math. There’s another girl who’s sort of a misfit as well — Suze. When Dewey’s father has to leave for a couple weeks to go to Washington, D.C., Dewey stays with Suze’s family. Suze doesn’t like her, because she’s weird, but will they eventually get along? And, uh, what’s the ‘gadget’ they’re working on?
Dewey’s ten when the book starts; however, when she relocates to Los Alamos, they put her in algebra with the eighth-graders. This, of course, doesn’t help her social integration much. Although it bothers her a little, though, she has such a rich life outside of school and enjoys being at Los Alamos so much that it seems a small price to pay. Finally, she has many smart people around her and she can ask them questions. Finally, she meets female scientists, and isn’t (at least by the adults) ostracized or patronized for being interested in the sciences. She invents several different devices over the course of the book, including a radio-alarm clock and a couple of little robot-things. In many ways, she’s happier living in the strange, isolated world of Los Alamos than she ever was before.
As much as I loved Dewey as a character (and I found her delightfully nerdy), there were other characters I enjoyed as well. Suze’s mother, Mrs. (Terry) Gordon, is a scientist (a chemist) there, and I love that the main adult female that we see is one who is a full partner in the world of Los Alamos. She’s not support staff (although I will never, ever make fun of support staff, since they do all the work) and she’s an excellent mentor/role model for Dewey, as well as a great mother for Suze. Dewey’s father is a bright point of brilliance, as well; he does everything he can to encourage her. And honestly, how can one possibly hate a children’s book with Richard Feynman as a character?
Readers will most likely already know that the adults in the book are working on the Manhattan Project. Well, I say that mostly because it mentions “Manhattan Project” in the front-jacket matter; I have no real idea what ten-year-olds know about atomic bombs. Due to the fact that I did know that Feynman and Oppenheimer worked on the atomic bomb, as well as knowing that Los Alamos was where they did it, and various other clues, a good deal of the suspense of the book was elided. I didn’t think it ruined the book at all; I think it would be awfully frustrating to read it without knowing about the end of World War II. In any case, younger readers might have a good deal to research and to discuss with others. 5/5 stars.