Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bertie's War

Written by Barbara Tifft Blakely, Bertie's War presents a twelve-year-old's struggle with fear, insecurity and a potential nuclear war. Roberta (Bertie) tries to follow all the rules and always do the right things, but her imagination often sends her tumbling into embarrassing or even dangerous situations. If she just knew exactly what to do in all situations, she'd never make a mistake and then everyone would love her. But she doesn't know all the rules. There's no way she possibly could! Fear perpetually paralyzes her. She's afraid of failure, of her father, of what others might think. Above all, she's afraid no one is doing anything about the "dirty commies" who want to drop a bomb and destroy them all.

Throughout the book Bertie juggles her fears with learning the ropes of adolescence. Is she too old for playing? Too young for Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen? Is she too silly for her own good? Will she ever gain her father's approval? How can she protect herself? Her family? Will she ever learn to speak her mind without crumbling into a mess of tears and frustration?

Her family offers a solid, Christian backdrop. While they rarely teach her faith in formal ways, they provide consistent examples that spur her on in her personal journey toward knowing and trusting God.

What I Like:
This is a clean book. Too many YA titles these days involve sex, drugs, witchcraft, vampires and foul language. This one contains none of that. It is a simple coming-of-age book that promotes a virtuous, honorable lifestyle. I like that Bertie's family clearly values strong work ethics while encouraging a healthy childhood.

The last twenty pages were great. I like the way Bertie's father pushed her to think through to the root of her fear and actions. He put the responsibility solely on her shoulders, which is necessary for someone of her age. The conclusion offers hope and direction for readers struggling with the same issues of fear and insecurity.

What I Dislike: I really struggled to get through this book. The pace was slow and, for most of the book, the characters lacked dimension. Bertie seemed a spineless, whiney girl far too old to be so entrenched in her fantasy worlds.

I feel the tagline was misleading. It reads "In the fall of 1962 the world went crazy and took a young girl with it." That sounds like an exciting, dramatic read, a promise that wasn't fulfilled. The text offered too little about the world crisis and too much about mundane internal struggles. Back-story fills the first two-thirds of the book, all of which takes place before the fall of 1962.

Also, this less of a "dislike" and more of a caveat: kids who don't know their history may find this book confusing. The author leaves out many details, assuming her readers already possess a level of understanding about the time period and, more specifically, the Cuban nuclear crisis.

Overall Rating:

Age Appeal:
Teen -- However, since most kids don't like reading about characters younger than themselves, I suggest 9-12.

Publisher Info:
Kregel Publications, 2009; ISBN: 0825424321; Paperback; 192 pages; $7.99

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