I have a friend who is obsessed with post-apocalyptic stories. There have been many stories about a possible apocalypse, nuclear war, or distopian society – this is a really popular genre, and it has been for a while. She recently passed along a book called Fallout, about a family with a fallout shelter in the early 1960s. The author of the book, Todd Strasser, has written numerous books for young people, it’s interesting he would choose this subject matter. No one in the target audience of this book would have lived through the Cold War, and few would really understand (or even know about) the Cuban Missle Crisis.
This book was inspired by the author’s own experiences when his father built a bomb shelter in their backyard. Strasser’s family was the only house in their neighborhood with a bomb shelter. Scott, who is the main character of the story, is also the only boy on the block with a bomb shelter. This Strasser’s 100th book, and its interesting that he would wait this long to write this book that seems so personal. Unlike the author’s own experiences, Scott’s family actually uses their shelter.
What would have happened if the bomb was dropped? That’s the question this book tackles. So many books in this genre have become just as popular with adults as they are with the intended YA audience. One thing I noticed while reading it was the references to the 1960s that even the smartest kids will have a hard time understanding. I just don’t think it resonates. Elementary school students who never lived through the “duck and cover” drills won’t understand the imminent threat of nuclear war that Americans lived through during the Cold War.
Shortly after Scott’s father finished building the bomb shelter, the neighborhood is shocked when they believe the country is under nuclear attack. They were prepared, though. As their neighbors are panicking and scrambling, Scott’s family prepares to get into the shelter. As Scott’s father prepares to close the hatch a few of their neighbors are right outside, begging and fighting to come in. It was hard to turn them away, and with a few extra people in the shelter, things are quite crowded. One of their neighbors who had been the most opinnionated and cynical when Scott’s father began building the shelter made it in. Even though he’s enjoying the benenfits of the shelter, he feels free to continue to criticize Scott’s father, making the situation immediately tense.
One thing this outspoken critic said sticks in my mind: “But we know who always has to have the last word. ‘According to Nietzsche,’ Paula’s father replies, ‘In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs man’s torments'”. He is the first to give up hope. Even though the days are hard to count for those living in the shelter, and with supplies quickly running out, this negativity is contagious. Everyone in Scott’s family regrets letting this man into the shelter – it’s just one more of the difficult situations in the shelter.
This may have been required reading for children of my generation (I was in junior high when the Cold War officially ended). Even though I liked the book, as did my friend who is obsessed with the end of the world, I am not sure it’s something kids today will enjoy.