Monday, October 22, 2007


The Loud Silence of Francine Green

by Karen Cushman.

I usually love Karen Cushman anyhow, but this one was great. In her usual manner, she has taken a period in history - the McCarthy era 50's in this book - and placed a fairly strong-minded character there. But in this case, her strong-minded girl is not her main (title) character, but her best friend, Sophie. Sophie arrives in Francince's world and turns it upside down, with her talk of politics and willingness to get in trouble to defend what she sees as her right to free speech and free thinking. Sophie's family is sure different, too. Her father talks with her about what is in the news, discusses ideas like Sophie is a grownup with her own opinions, while Francine is feeling more and more hemmed in by a steady diet of, "That's enough, Francine."

As Francine starts to see injustice and fear around her, she begins to form her own opinions, to get angry about things, to not always agree with the pack the way she has been encouraged to do and always has before. Her 6-year-old brother should not be having nightmares about bombs and communists, her father should not have to worry about whether he can afford to build a shelter to protect his family from nuclear war, her friend's father should not have lost his job for being suspected of communist sympathies, and his friend should not have been blacklisted and hounded by the FBI until he was driven to suicide. By the end of this book, Francine decides that her father's way of trying to protect them by not rocking the boat and not getting involved is not going to be her way. She decides that if she is appalled by what she is seeing, she should start to take a stand, even if it makes her stomach twist in fear of trouble.

This book is fantastic, not only for showing the kind of constant fear and confusion the people lived in at that time, but also for doing a terrific but not heavy-handed job of showing the dangers of a time when government tells people to accept its spying on its own citizens in the name of security. A thinking kid will pick up on it without feeling lectured, while one who doesn't make the connection will still enjoy the story for what is in print. Wonderful.

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