Tag Archives: race relations

Book Review: Countdown Is a Childlike Recollection

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I picked up Countdown by Deborah Wiles more for its unique format, which uses photographs, pamphlets, quotes, song lyrics, and other memorabilia of the 60s between chapters to place the reader within the time and to broaden the scope of the book’s plot by showing what is happening outside of the protagonist’s personal story, than for its synopsis.  Definitely it’s outside of the genre that I prefer, being a realistic, wartime novel.  The story follows protagonist Franny Chapman, a young girl living in Camp Springs, Maryland, just outside of Washington D.C., in 1962, during the Cold War, during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Franny’s father works on the air force base in Camp Springs.  Her grandfather is also a war veteran who lives with the family and suffers from PTSD.  Franny lives in fear: fear of death, fear of humiliation, fear of social isolation.  As much as Wiles shows us the 1960s, she also shows us the typical childhood of a child in the 1960s, of any child of any time, dealing with the frustrations of school, the drama of trying to belong in a peer group, childhood crushes, secrets kept from parents, family drama, etc.

I appreciate Wiles’ rather accurate representation of childhood.  Wiles admits in an author’s note at the novel’s end that she drew greatly from her own childhood recollections, and Countdown does read almost like creative nonfiction, again to her credit.  I appreciate that this is a wartime novel that I didn’t loathe (usually I do), but then again, this is not a typical wartime novel that focuses on soldiers, but it focuses instead on the civilians, whose way of life I am more comfortable sharing.

Wiles touched on many of the aspects of American life and controversy in the 1960s (or as far as my scant knowledge is aware): PTSD, the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the growing awareness of racial inequality….  Franny, being young and mainly unaware of the intricacies of these situations, was not a narrator to give me any great insight into these events; rather Franny’s perspective offered the raw, emotional fear that these events inspired in the average citizen.

And there’s “fear” again.  I guess if I had to, I would say that that was the overarching impression that this book gave me of the 60s: fear paired with a desire for 50s normality (white picket fence, manicured lawn, and 2.5 kids, et al.).  Whether this was the overarching feeling of the 60s or if it was merely Wiles’ adolescent impression of the time, I do not know.

Readers of the book should not look for deep insight into the 60s but a glance, as if flipping quickly through the pages of a newspaper of the time, and should rather look forward to a realistic childhood adventure and drama, which are well-portrayed, mixing the ordinary with the extraordinary, but are not as well-executed as some that I have seen.

***

Wiles, Deborah.  The Sixties Trilogy, Book 1: Countdown.  New York: Scholastic, 2013.

This review is not endorsed by Deborah Wiles or Scholastic, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Film Review: Red Tails Offers a Thrilling Flight but Misses the True Target

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Red Tails had an amazing trailer, so much so that without having ever heard of the film, from the trailer alone, my Sherlockian friend and I decided to meet at the theater the following week to see the film.  The movie was not entirely what I was expecting.  Knowing little of WWII history, I would have appreciated more of the history being worked somehow into the plot and script of the film.  I think Red Tails assumed a little more era-specific knowledge.  Which, I admit, the majority of the audience, I saw when the lights were turned on, probably had.

My major complaint about the film was this:

For a movie the message of which is that race does not confer greatness or difference, it was horridly black-and-white.  I understand, of course, that WWII fighter pilots, possibly even by necessity, did in fact see the Germans as little more than targets, but I would have appreciated less demonization of the Germans, many of whom were following orders—bad orders, yes—but, too, the Germans in this film were not those who probably ever saw the atrocities of the concentration camps.  It seemed almost as if the African American characters were foisting their own problems onto another group of people; rather than recognizing that prejudice and the demonization of one race by another is bad, the African Americans dehumanized the Germans similarly to how they—the African Americans—had been dehumanized by the Caucasian Americans and Europeans.  I honestly would almost expect more gray from an executive producer whose best-known project has been detailing the fall into darkness and rise from it again of a young Ani.

Red Tails shone in the scenes between the aerial battles.  It did not represent army life as always one of rigidity and marching.  The scenes of guitar-playing, card games, football, mess hall, and celebrating victories made the characters seem more human than they would have without these scenes.  I can’t say I’ve ever been in a situation I could relate to aerial warfare, but I can relate to time spent hanging out with friends.

The camaraderie of army life (which I’d like to believe exists though, again, I don’t know first hand) was nicely illustrated in the interactions between the characters and even among extras.

There were some really pretty fantastic action sequences in this film and the filming and special effects are quite impressive, though I might be remembering the effects as better than they were.  The opening credits seemed so retro that I suspected a low-budget film, but Red Tails was actually made with $100 million of George Lucas’ fortune according to Entertainment Weekly.

I think I would have preferred fewer aerial battles—or at least more scenes between.  I wanted to linger with the characters and instead was thrust into dogfights where it was possible to glean something of the characters, but not perhaps as much as I was able to gain from their grounded scenes.

Overall, I wish the film had been more slowly paced.  I wish it had shown the African American fighter pilots as more sympathetic to the Germans, though I realize this historically might be impossible.  Red Tails is more of an action than a perception-altering film—enjoyable but not as important as it could have been.

Red Tails.  Dir. Anthony Hemingway.  Exec. Prod. George Lucas.  Twentieth Century Fox Films & LucasFilms.  2012.

This review is not endorsed by Twentieth Century Fox Films, LucasFilms, George Lucas, Anthony Hemingway, anyone in the cast, or anyone involved in making this film.  It is an independent, honest review by a viewer.