I finished Bomb by Steve Sheinkin over this past weekend, and I’ve really wondered what to say about it. I even considered saying nothing at all, but then, how can I not at least mention a book that has been given all these awards?
- A 2012 Cybils Award for nonfiction
- A 2013 Sibert Medal for “the most distinguished informational book published for children in 2012”
- A 2013 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults
- A 2013 Newbery honor
- A 2012 National Book Award finalist designation for young people’s literature
That’s a lot of metal, so it’s obviously not a book to ignore.
This book is straight nonfiction that brings together several different stories into one main story which is summed up by the book’s rather lengthy subtitle: “The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon.” The chapters are short and to the point, and Sheinkin did his research well: the book is jam-packed full of quotations and excerpts from primary sources. This time period–the ending of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War–is of great interest to me, but it’s not one I’ve read much about lately. There are many characters in this book, from American scientists and politicians to British agents to German physicists to Russian spies. There are even some Norwegians who do most of their “tradecraft” (a new-to-me word which basically means “the art and science of spying”) on skis. This is the only thing that makes this book a difficult read (well, for this middle-aged pregnant woman, anyway)–trying to keep up with so many different characters and personalities. However, given the length of the chapters (as well as the thorough index), it’s not too difficult to go back and retrace your steps to figure out the identity of a certain character. Each section of the book opens with photographs of the main players, so it is easy to put a name and face together, which also helps. This is an exciting story, of course, even if one knows the outcome, and I definitely learned a lot.
However, and I say this with the qualification that this might be all because I’m at the end of pregnancy when all I really want to do is nothing, this book didn’t wow me like I expected it to. Granted, I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, and my first preference is for a character-driven novel, so perhaps the fact that I read the book fairly quickly and all the way through to the end means something. I definitely think it’s more of a young adult read than a juvenile read (the Sibert and Newbery notwithstanding) because of the subject matter and its complexity, not to mention the fact that since Sheinkin uses lots of quotes and primary sources, the story contains a good bit of profanity. My favorite quote from the whole book comes from the author biography on the jacket flap:
A former textbook writer, Steve Sheinkin has dedicated his life to making up for his previous crimes by crafting gripping narratives of American history.
Read his “full confession” here. I think this one qualifies as a “living book” that we homeschoolers are so fond of.
The bottom line? Preteens, teens, and adults who are interested in spies, espionage, World War II, the Cold War, history in general, and those who just like an exciting story will likely enjoy this true story. Homeschooling parents who are looking for living books to supplement their children’s history studies can add this one to the list. I’d like to try some of Sheinkin‘s other titles when I’m not so pregnant. 😉 (Roaring Brook Press, 2012)