Everybody has a dream. For young Danny River it's to have a dog of his own. He wants a dog so badly he crawls around the kitchen on his hands and knees barking until his mother says, "Great balls of fire, Danny. If you keep this up, they won't know whether to put you in the nuthouse or the kennel." But then Danny's dream comes true. And like some dreams, Danny's dog turns out to be the way for a little boy and his family to learn how to cope with a devastating nightmare.
The Rivers live in Hogs Hollow in the mid-1960s as the Vietnam War is beginning. Mrs. Rivers thinks about being a novelist, oldest brother Beau dreams about being an astronaut, Danny would like a dog and Mr. Rivers wants his family to be safe from the threat of nuclear war. His days at Pearl Harbor during World War II have discolored his view of the world. He doesn't want his children to suffer or be afraid. So he decides to build the family a bomb shelter.
With some plans from the government and a shovel, Charlie Rivers spends evenings and weekends digging up the front yard. His family watches from the kitchen window as the pile of dirt grows higher and higher. It soon becomes a construction site as Mr. Rivers digs and pours concrete walls three feet thick to protect his family against radiation. Mrs. Rivers says it's a waste of time, but the Rivers boys love to play on the muddy mountain in their front yard. Months go by and the shelter isn't finished. Partial concrete walls line the bottom of the pit and iron reinforcement bars stick up in the air like daggers from the earth. Then the spring rains come.
What happens next is sad and heartwrenching as Beau has an accident that changes everything for the River family. In an effort to help Danny cope with the harsh challenges facing him, he gets his wish for a dog of his own. Unhappy and unwilling to face the pain in his life, Danny isn't interested, but the persistent pup will not leave Danny's side and they become fast friends. When Rocket is close by, Danny feels like his brother Beau is close by too. In fact, Danny decides that Rocket represents the spirit of someone he holds very dear.
Danny and Rocket are inseparable, so when the police come to take Rocket away for attacking a neighborhood child, the two take to the road. They head for NASA and Cape Canaveral, Florida where the Gemini space missions are scheduled. The adventure teaches them about the life of truck drivers and what it's like to spend a night in jail, have your picture in the newspaper and realize the ultimate of all dreams.
In his own words, Iain Lawrence claims, "All my characters, in a way, are only variations of myself. Little parts of me find their way into every character. When you open a book you are stepping into a funhouse of mirrors, seeing the author in a different shape in all of them." In GEMINI SUMMER Lawrence mixes a bit of himself with some space coast history and the difficult job of coping with great sadness. Young Danny River learns about real life while seeking hope in the eyes of a shaggy stray dog that's as close as any brother can ever be.
Reviewed by Joy Held on October 10, 2006
- Publication Date: October 10, 2006
- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
- ISBN-10: 0385730896
- ISBN-13: 9780385730891