July 27, 2016

And Then the Sky Exploded

I am an avid reader of middle school and young adult literature. Perhaps it's because of my job as a middle school ELA teacher that I am intrigued by these literary categories, but to be honest: some of the absolute BEST stories are written for fifth through tenth graders! The stories that I enjoy the most for this age group deal with WWII, particularly the Holocaust or the dropping of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombs. Tough issues are tackled head-on with honesty and simplicity. One such book is And Then the Sky Exploded by David L. Poulsen. Scheduled for release by Dundurn Press on Oct. 22, 2016 for Kindle and November 15, 2016, for paperback, I jumped at the chance to read an advance copy, and I was not disappointed in my decision.

While the subject matter of this teen/young adult novel is familiar (the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan) it is looked at in a unique way. Not your typical historical fiction, And Then the Sky Exploded combines a bit of the supernatural (ghosts of the living) with actual history (references to scientists, buildings, events) while the protagonist supplies the narrative of a poignant adventure (traveling to Japan and meeting a survivor). Intrigued? You should be!
“At that exact instant a blinding flash - the light of a thousand, thousand suns - tore apart the sky above the city.  And Yuko's world would never be the same.” 
And Then the Sky Exploded tells the story of ninth grader Christian whose grandfather worked on the Manhattan Project. Originally admiring his grandfather, Christian's feelings change dramatically when he discovers his grandfather had a part in the bombing of Japan resulting in tremendous destruction and loss of life. Via a school field trip to Japan Christian meets a survivor who aids him on his journey to acceptance and healing.

The story unfolds through dual storylines, one Christian's and one the survivor Yuko's. Present action is entwined with past events to build to the climax where the two characters meet in modern Hiroshima. Although I have read numerous accounts of this historical event, from picture books to autobiographies, this technique presents the familiar story in a novel way that makes it distinctive, fresh. It's a piece of literature that deserves to be read and used.

And Then the Sky Exploded contains rich teaching material. Doing a study of genre? This novel provides rich fodder for discussion. Its complex structure will challenge students to identify a definitive genre and force them to provide text evidence to support their choice. Doing a comparative study between fiction and nonfiction? Poulsen's novel contains plenty of historical facts that students can research for authenticity. Teaching plot structure? This is the perfect novel!

Studying characters? The verbal interchanges between the characters are authentic; Poulsen obviously knows teenagers, how they behave and how they speak.
“I turned on the jets. I'm pretty fast when I'm either scared or I think I might score the first touchdown of my football career. When you put the two together I'm a regular Usain Bolt.” 
The only complaint that I have in this arena is that several instances of vulgar language are, in my opinion, dropped into the storyline where they are not needed. Omitting them does not change the storyline, mood, or characters. For this reason I would hesitate to use the actual novel as classroom teaching material, at least for middle school students. However, I would not hesitate to read the book aloud, filtering out the objectionable language. In fact, I am looking forward to sharing this with my junior high students during the coming school year.

To order this intriguing new novel, just click on the book cover above, you'll be glad that you did!

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