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This Means War!

Review

This Means War!

Many children’s first experience of peer pressure comes with the sudden expectation that boys play with boys and girls play with girls, and that anyone who fails to adhere to this standard has something wrong with them. For those who have grown up playing innocently but passionately with best friends of the opposite gender, this unexpected thrusting into the world of sexual politics can be truly traumatic.

That’s the world where Juliet Klostermeyer finds herself at the beginning of THIS MEANS WAR! Juliet has been best friends with her neighbor Lowell for nearly their entire lives. Now that they’re getting older, though, Lowell is spending way too much time building go-karts with the other boys whose dads are stationed at the nearby military base. He has no time for Juliet, which means that she has a lot of time on her own, to worry about all the other things going wrong in the world.

There is her older sister Caroline, of course, who seems to require more privacy --- and be bossier --- than ever. There are her parents, owners of a small downtown grocer, constantly bickering and worrying about the new supermarkets on the edge of town. And, of course, there is the far-away but ever-nearer threat of war, as the Soviet Union threatens to park nuclear weapons in Cuba, and Juliet and her classmates practice “duck and cover” drills several times a day.

Into this tense world bursts the plucky, charismatic Patsy, who has moved into the neighborhood because her dad is a mechanic for all those fighter planes lined up ready to go to war. Patsy has guts and bravery --- and she’s not about to let Lowell’s friends, especially the bullying Bruce Wagner, have the run of the neighborhood. So when Patsy engineers a “boys vs. girls” competition between Juliet’s friends and Lowell’s, everyone’s on board --- at first. But just as issues on the world political stage are growing more and more tense, so are the competitions staged between the boys and girls.

Juliet is a thoughtful narrator, one who is sensitive both to world events and to the ones that affect her daily life. Her heartfelt spirituality is a refreshing aspect of her character; she often composes sincere, if awkward, prayers to God at moments of personal crisis. Her group of friends are realistic and convincing, straddling the realms of childhood, with its innocent games and challenges, and adolescence, with its romantic pressures and more serious forms of competition.

In THIS MEANS WAR!, Ellen Wittlinger has put her finger on a particular moment in many children’s maturation, one that will speak to a number of readers, especially in the late primary grades. By placing these common themes of girl vs. boy politics against the backdrop of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, however, Wittlinger cleverly raises more profound questions about what it means to be an aggressor, a soldier. She encourages readers to consider what constitutes true bravery and weakness, and what these questions mean not only in the context of Juliet’s particular historical moment but also in our own.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on April 20, 2010

This Means War!
by Ellen Wittlinger

  • Publication Date: April 20, 2010
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 1416971017
  • ISBN-13: 9781416971016