Fallout by Todd Strasser is an alternate history in which the Cuban Missile Crisis ends with an actual atomic bomb going off in the US. It chronicles the days a family and some of their neighbors spend in their fallout shelter following the blast. I was intrigued by the concept, but have mixed feelings about the result.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
In the summer of 1962,
the possibility of nuclear war is all anyone talks about. But Scott’s
dad is the only one in the neighborhood who actually prepares for the
worst. As the neighbors scoff, he builds a bomb shelter to hold his
family and stocks it with just enough supplies to keep the four of them
alive for two critical weeks. In the middle of the night in late
October, when the unthinkable happens, those same neighbors force their
way into the shelter before Scott’s dad can shut the door. With not
enough room, not enough food, and not enough air, life inside the
shelter is filthy, physically draining, and emotionally fraught. But
even worse is the question of what will -- and won’t -- remain when the
door is opened again. Internationally best-selling author Todd Strasser
has written his most impressive and personal novel to date, ruthlessly
yet sensitively exploring the terrifying what-ifs of one of the most
explosive moments in human history
The book alternates chapters back and forth between before and after. The odd chapters tell the story in the shelter, the evens the story of life in a 1960's neighborhood.
The 1960's neighborhood story is an excellent work of historical fiction. One of the finest I've seen of the era. There are some scenes in which the neighborhood boys discuss sexuality in a way that may be disturbing to some young readers. Scott's best friend is always talking about wanting to see girls naked and he goes so far as to call Scott a "homo" at one point. Then tries to explain what that means. It is spot on accurate type of conversation for the time period, but I'm not sure it is entirely necessary for the purposes of the book. I would not use this with my students younger than 7th grade, and even then I would be careful. I don't know that students much older than that would find it engrossing though.
The fallout shelter scenes have all the urgency and danger of dystopian fiction. Kids who like those type of books will be drawn to the story in this one. It is all about the struggle for survival as food runs short, water supplies are scarce, people are scared, and some are injured. I feel like this section sort of focused on the worst humanity has to offer rather than the best. The characters read more as caricatures than real people. Even the main character Scott always seemed distant. The book overall seemed more about the ideas and history than about the people, which is not the type of story I enjoy as much.
In the end this book wasn't the right fit for me as a reader, but I know there are many out there who will appreciate it. The writing is strong, the concept intriguing, and the plot engaging.
Warning for Concerned Parents: There are some discussions of sexuality that may be disturbing for younger readers.
I read an e-galley provided to my the publisher, Candlewick, via NetGalley. Fallout will be available for purchase September 10.