Friday, December 23, 2005

The Art of Keeping Cool

Well, this is my first post to the blog and I am sure everyone else is saying "finally!!". Sorry!! I have been reading Newbery contenders for our mock Newbery in January, so I haven't been reading much teen stuff. But now I'm reading teen books again!

I just read The Art of Keeping Cool, a historical fiction novel set in WWII in Rhode Island. It was written by Janet Taylor Lisle. Robert and his mother and sister move to the coast of Rhode Island during WWII when they can no longer keep their family farm in Ohio working. Robert's father has gone off to fly for the Royal Air Force in England, before America has entered the war. They are living in a house owned by Robert's dad's parents, who live down the road, along with his aunt and uncle and cousin, Elliott.

Elliott is an artist - he can draw sketches of what he sees that are realistic and funny. He spends a lot of time alone, roaming the woods and avoiding their house. Robert and Elliott's grandfather has a mean temper, and Elliott has found that it is best to "keep cool" and stay out of his way. In Elliott's roaming, he has discovered the home of a German painter, Abel Hoffmann. When they begin to know Abel, they find out that he came to America just as the Nazis were coming to power. The townspeople in their small town don't really trust Abel, since they have been told by the local Naval base that there are German submarines just off the coast of Rhode Island, spying on the Americans.

There are enormous Naval guns at the local Navy base, pointed out to sea in hopes of scoring a direct hit on a submarine, and protecting the American shore. One day, during practice manuevers for the Navy, Robert and his young sister sneak into the Naval base to watch the guns being fired. While they are there, they see Abel Hoffmann, watching too, and taking notes. Now Robert is faced with a dilemma - does he tell the police about Abel's suspicious activities, making Robert a patriotic hero? Or does he confront Abel, and find out what he was really doing on the Naval base? As the tensions of WWII build, Robert is trapped between patriotism and friendship.

This is a really good book, with a lot of suspense. I also liked the setting, since I lived just off the coast of Rhode Island for a couple of years, on Nantucket. What happens to Robert, Elliott and Abel will make you really think about what you would do in this situation.

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