White Sands, Red Menace: Atomic age historical sf novel for young people that is sweet, sneaky, and exciting

Ellen Klages' young adult novel White Sands, Red Menace is quiet, magnificent, heartbreaking and inspirational. It's the story of Dewey and Suze, two girls growing up in Alamogordo after the end of WWII. They are both the children of atomic scientists from the Los Alamos project, and have found themselves in a period of weird and fragile peace after V-J day.

But the peace is only a skin stretched thin over a hundred bubbling tensions: Suze's mom has formed a league of atomic scientists against nuclear proliferation while her father has gone to work on the space program, ready to forgive the Nazi scientists he's working alongside if it means that he gets to play with giant sexy toys and fight Commies. Dewey — a girl-inventor whose delightful ingenuity is the progeny of Heinlein's Have Spacesuit, Will Travel and a Cherry Ames novel — is forced into "girl" classes at school and has to come to grips with her bespectacled awkwardness. Suze befriends a Mexican girl from Little Chihuahua and is delighted by the family's old artist grandmother, who tutors her on craftmaking; but she is also forced to confront the racial inequality in whitewashed New Mexico.

Set in the fascinating period right after the war, when "atomic" meant "new and exciting" and when empowered women had yet to be shoehorned all the way back into their kitchens, White Sands, Red Menace has the sweet and evocative nostalgia of Ray Bradbury; the ingenuity and sprightly pace of a Heinlein juvenile; and the sneaky and thought-provoking politics of PD James. Klages has pulled off the impossible: a moving, deeply political novel that both cherishes and critiques the American century. It is an extraordinary and moving book.

White Sands, Red Menace is the sequel to the 2006 The Green Glass Sea, though it stands alone just fine. But you should read 'em both.

White Sands, Red Menace