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REVIEWS

Praise for Ellen's Books

Portable Childhoods

  • Booklist

Klages' stories contain marvels--small, strange things lurking on the edges of normal life.  In the Nebula Award-winning "Basement Magic," a cleaning lady and a little girl build a friendship around housework and magic.  "In the House of the Seven Librarians," which closes the book, is a charmer about the unconventional upbringing of a child raised by feral librarians.  Not all the stories are particularly concerned with childhood.  In "Time Gypsy," a woman travels to the past to recover a paper on time travel that was never delivered and instead discovers the failures of history... Klages creates wonder-filled and beautiful worlds in her short stories, making this a tremendously satisfying collection.

 

Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

Klages, whose debut novel, Green Glass Sea (2006), won the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, demonstrates both superior writing skill and a wide range in an impressive short story collection that defies easy categorization. The 16 selections, three of which are original to the volume, include moving mainstream tales of human relationships, like the title story, about a mother and daughter, as well as fantasy and science fiction. The author is equally adept at short, twisty narratives that make the most of premises that could be gimmicks in lesser hands, like the recursive "Mobius, Stripped of a Muse."This collection will linger in the memory long after reading, and should help garner a larger audience for Klages's forthcoming second novel. (May)

The Green Glass Sea

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Klages makes an impressive debut with an ambitious, meticulously researched novel set during WWII. Writing from the points of view of two displaced children, she successfully recreates life at Los Alamos Camp, where scientists and mathematicians converge with their families to construct and test the first nuclear bomb. Eleven-year-old Dewey, the daughter of a math professor, is shunned by the other girls at the camp due to her passionate interest in mechanics and her fascination with the dump, which holds all sorts of mechanisms and tools she can use for her projects. Her classmate Suze is also often snubbed and has been nicknamed "Truck" by her classmates ("'cause she's kind of big and likes to push people around," explains one boy). The two outcasts reluctantly come together when Dewey's father is called away to Washington, D.C., and Dewey temporarily moves in with Suze's family. Although the girls do not get along at first (Suze draws a chalk line in her room to separate their personal spaces), they gradually learn to rely on each other for comfort, support and companionship. Details about the era-popular music, pastimes and products-add authenticity to the story as do brief appearances of some historic figures including Robert Oppenheimer....the author provides much insight into the controversies surrounding the making of the bomb and brings to life the tensions of war experienced by adults and children alike.

  • The Horn Book  (starred review)

Dewey, ten, embarks alone on a mysterious train trip from her grandmother's home in St. Louis to New Mexico, where she will rejoin her often-absent mathematician father. It's 1943, and Dewey's dad is working at Los Alamos -- "the Hill" -- with hundreds of other scientists and their families. Klages evokes both the big-sky landscape of the Southwest and a community where "everything is secret" with inviting ease and the right details, focusing particularly on the society of the children who live there. Dewey seems comfortable with her own oddness (she's small for her age, slightly lame, and loves inventing mechanical gizmos) and serves as something of an example to another girl, Suze, who has been trying desperately to fit in. Their burgeoning friendship sees them through bouts of taunting, their parents' ceaseless attention to "the gadget," personal tragedy, and of course the test detonation early on July 16, 1945, which the two girls watch from a mesa two hundred miles away: "Dewey could see the colors and patterns of blankets and shirts that had been indistinct grays a second before, as if it were instantly morning, as if the sun had risen in the south, just this once." Cameo appearances are made by such famous names as Richard Feynman (he helps Dewey build a radio) and Robert Oppenheimer, but the story, an intense but accessible page-turner, firmly belongs to the girls and their families; history and story are drawn together with confidence.

  • School Library Journal

Grade 5-8:  Two girls spend a year in Los Alamos as their parents work on the secret gadget that will end World War II. Dewey is a mechanically minded 10-year-old who gets along fine with the scientists at the site, but is teased by girls her own age. When her mathematician father is called away, she moves in with Suze, who initially detests her new roommate. The two draw closer, though, and their growing friendship is neatly set against the tenseness of the Los Alamos compound as the project nears completion. Clear prose brings readers right into the unusual atmosphere of the secretive scientific community, seen through the eyes of the kids and their families. Dewey is an especially engaging character, plunging on with her mechanical projects and ignoring any questions about gender roles. Occasional shifts into first person highlight the protagonist's most emotional moments, including her journey to the site.... After the atomic bomb test succeeds, ethical concerns of both youngsters and adults intensify as the characters learn how it is ultimately used. Many readers will know as little about the true nature of the project as the girls do, so the gradual revelation of facts is especially effective, while those who already know about Los Alamos's historical significance will experience the story in a different, but equally powerful, way.

  • Booklist

In November of 1943, 10-year-old budding inventor Dewey Kerrigan sets off on a cross-country train ride to be with her father, who is engaged in “war work.” She’s busy designing a radio when a fellow passenger named Dick Feynman offers to help her. Feynman’s presence in this finely wrought first novel is the first clue that Dewey is headed for Los Alamos. The mystery and tension surrounding “war work” and what Dewey knows only as “the gadget” trickles down to the kids living in the Los Alamos compound, who often do without adult supervision. Although disliked by her girl classmates, “Screwy Dewey” enjoys Los Alamos. There are lots of people to talk with about radios (including “Oppie”), and she gets to dig through the dump for discarded science stuff. However, when Dewey’s father leaves for Washington, she’s left to fend off the biggest bully in Los Alamos....The characters are exceptionally well drawn, and the compelling, unusual setting makes a great tie-in for history classes.

 

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