Newbery medalist Karen Cushman( the midwife; Catherine, called Birdy) likes to write about “gutsy girls who find out who they are.”The main character of war and Millie McGonigle is another outstanding creation.
Millie, twelve, knows all too well what it’s like to experience a personal and a national crisis at the same time. It is September 1941.During the summer, when the Second World War raged in Europe, Millie’s Beloved grandmother died on the day of Millie’s birthday. No wonder Millie thinks the world is ” full of war and passed away.”
Just before she died, Gram gave Millie a diary and asked her to use it to remember good things. Now Millie holds her “Book of Dead Things” as a talisman, noting notes and sketches of things she sees, such as an octopus caught by a fisherman on the San Diego beach near her home. She also developed a celebration of repeatedly writing her last name in the sand, which, she hopes, will keep the passed away of her family away.
Money is tight for the McGonigles, but everyone is starting to help the war effort. After Mama becomes a welder and Pop gets a job as a clerk at the Navy Exchange, Millie will have her younger siblings supervised, including Lily, who has weak lungs. Gram’s distracted cousin Edna also moves in, making the family’s tight quarters even tighter. While seeking freedom outdoors, Millie finds pleasure in a new friend and develops into an older surfer.
As always, Cushman exquisitely grasps the historical framework of his story. Readers will feel the San Diego sun on their shoulders as Millie steers her boat into the warm waters of the bay and the sand between her toes as Millie explores the Vasi. Millie’s first-person success story is full of 1940s slang like “holy mackerel” and “good gravy,” as well as references to “the Lone Ranger,” Bob Hope and the lingering fear of polio. After the strike on Pearl Harbor, the McGonigles sleep in their clothes and keep their suitcases packed in matter they should evacuate, and their blackout curtains give Millie the impression that there is “no glimmer of light on Earth.”
Despite such serious themes, War and Millie McGonigle is a vivid book full of humor, love and transformation. Millie gradually learns to navigate her grief, face her fears and move from war and passed away to life and living. Although Cushman has rooted the story in tangible details of the 1940s, it has a lot to offer contemporary readers. Gram, for example, was a crusader who believed that all girls should know “opposite songs and the phone number of their state representative.””Following in the footsteps of her grandmother, Millie intervenes several times to prevent bullying against children of Italian and Japanese origin.
Recalling Katherine Paterson’s sensitive portraits of grief, war and Millie McGonigle recognizes the suffocating enormities of fear, injustice and disaster that Millie has experienced and reveals a way to go. As Gram Millie says: “Life is not hopeless. We can do something for what worries and frightens us. . . . Despite the horror, people care, work together for a better world and action bravely.”