From School Library Journal
Grade 4–6—Lowell has long been 10-year-old Juliet's best friend, but after two Air Force-brat brothers move into their Illinois town, she is persona non grata. She befriends another newcomer, Patsy, whose father also works at the local airfield, and soon the girls and the boys form teams of four bent on challenging one another to prove whether girls are as capable as boys. The plot moves swiftly as Bruce, mean and older, and Patsy, outspoken and competitive, rally their opposing teams into increasingly risky and dangerous tests, including jumping out of a tree and shoplifting. Juliet's parents are occupied with trials of their own. As owners of a local grocery store, they are on edge about the appearance in town of supermarkets. They scare Juliet by arguing at the dinner table about whether President Kennedy will lead the United States into war over the recent Cuban missile crisis. Juliet finally gets their attention after Bruce resorts to arson to beat the girls' team, and she and Lowell brave heavy smoke to save Patsy from a burning barn. The Cold War underlies all, seeping into Juliet's fifth-grade classroom discussions and also into the atmosphere of her friend's underground bomb shelter. These details add realism and substance to an engaging novel that would be a step up for readers of Phyllis R. Naylor's Hartford and Malloy books (Delacorte).—Susan W. Hunter, Riverside Middle School, Springfield, VT
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Wittlinger latches on to a poignant metaphor for war in this lively and readable tale set against the backdrop of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Fifth-grader Juliet lives near a growing military base, which has brought in an influx of new kids, including the rowdy Patsy. It’s a good thing, too, because Juliet’s longtime pal Lowell has abandoned her to hang out with boys, including the overgrown bully, Bruce. This division turns into an all-out battle of the sexes when Bruce devises a nine-day competition that tests the strength and bravery of girls versus boys. These increasingly dangerous tests (entering a dog pen, shoplifting) bring most of the children closer together, though for Patsy and Bruce, they only escalate the conflict. It’s a clever concept that keeps the proceedings fun even as the darker drama of potential world collapse provides a weighty element; young readers will be shocked to learn of Juliet’s daily prayers, including “Dear God, please don’t let the world end today.” A warm way to introduce the cold war. Grades 5-8. --Daniel Kraus