Title: Children of the Dust


Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence. (Copyright 1985)

I read this book in early 1988. I was almost 13. I saw a classmate reading this book. (Megan, I think.) I saw the mushroom cloud on the cover. This was also around the time I had become familiar with Weird Al’s song “Christmas at Ground Zero”, and these lyrics: “We can dodge debris while we trim the tree / Underneath the mushroom cloud.” So naturally, I wanted to read it. At the time, if I remember correctly, we were nearing the end of the Cold War, but the possibility of mushroom clouds still seemed very real.

I found the book in the school library in my junior high. The Media Librarian was Mrs. Page, who was previously my fifth grade teacher. I loved her, and in jr. high, she would often save me books that she thought I’d like. However, this one I found on my own. Also, it again points out the power of peer influence, even when it comes to reading selections. Note: It was most likely this book that really gave me a taste for “disaster” fiction. I have to admit that it was already there (e.g. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder), but the disaster in Children of the Dust is man-made. This really woke me up to the idea that people could really be crazy enough to be this destructive.

Seven things about Children of the Dust:
1) The story is told in three parts – “Sarah”, “Ophelia”, and “Simon”. They are each essentially a different generation.
2) It takes place in England, in Gloucestershire. The book opens with a line about how perfect the day was: “It was such a perfect day, a promise of summer with cloudless blue skies.”
3) Sarah does not get along well with her step-mother Veronica. They get along better as the end nears for them. They work together to save Catherine, Sarah’s little sister.
4) Their dad, unbeknownst to them, survives when he is invited to an underground bunker. He pairs with another woman to conceive another child (Ophelia) to help carry on the human race. They mistakenly think that no one will survive outside.
5) Years later, when Ophelia is a teen, she, a friend, and her dad to go out to warn the people in the outside world that the men in the bunker are going to come to steal their cattle. It is then that they discover Catherine. Catherine is covered in radiation sores, but has managed to have two children who survive – they are mutants: the Children of the Dust. They have adapted to the new radiated environment. Ophelia looks so much like Sarah that Catherine thinks that Sarah survived.
6) Thirty some years later – Ophelia’s son Simon has been out with an expedition and is injured. He is taken to the healer in the local mutant settlement where he meets who turned out to be his cousin Laura (granddaughter of Catherine – also known by now as Blind Kate). Laura is a mutant, and at first he finds her repulsive, and then later beautiful as he get to know her and her people.

7) The mutants have mentals powers such as telekenesis that humans always has access to, but never used, and then forgot over time. The mutants have reclaimed these powers. Simon begins to see how the mutants and their powers, and the science that the people in the bunkers have can work together to create a wonderful new world.

Favorite lines from the book:
“They ate by candlelight – fish sticks, crinkle-cut french fries, and green beans, with thawing ice cream for dessert. . . food that Veronica had taken from the freezer and had to be used up quickly” (12).

“Sarah coughed and smiled. Bright blood flecked the back of her hand and she did not worry. Johnson was part of the plan, a man with a vision that she herself would never share. Her part was over, her purpose played out. She had lived for Catherine and now she gave Catherine to him. Finally satisfied, Sarah turned away, leaving man and child together in the rainy darkness” (61).

“From the inner room came a thin baby wail and an echo of girlish laughter, laughter that went on and one, a maniacal glee. Dwight was talking rubbish! Of course the human race was going to survive! Catherine had just given birth to a live healthy child and Ophelia was going to see. . . Gently she opened the shawl for Ophelia to see. The baby was naked, a pale little thing, completely covered in white silky hair, soft and thick as fur. Tiny fingers gripped when Ophelia touched her, and her eyes opened wide. They too were white” (11 7-18).

” ‘Government?’ said Johnson. ‘What government is this? I wasn’t aware we had a government, and I certainly didn’t vote for them. None of us did. You can’t just walk in here, Allison, and expect me to believe you represent some government I’ve never heard of.’
‘I do have credentials.’
‘Credentials don’t count,’ said Johnson” (122).

” ‘Psychic,’ said the girl, as if she had read his mind. ‘I’m a water diviner, among other things, and my name is Laura. You had no need to shoot that dog, you know. I could have controlled it. My mind is stronger than an animal’s mind. Stronger than yours, too.’
Simon sat on the crumbling edge of the windowsill.
There was a throbbing pain in his leg.
He did not believe what she told him.
Laura laughed teasingly.
‘Once people believed that nuclear holocaust would never happen,’ she said” (136-7).

If you liked this book, there is a movie from the early ’80s that you should see titled The Day After. I watched this two or three years ago after a colleague suggested it. It takes place in the US, and does not go into future generations of those who survive, but it tells a story that is very scary, and would be at least as scary as this book. I do have to admit, though, that Children of the Dust really ends very positively for the characters involved who go on to create new societies after the destruction.

Title: Angie and Me

Since I mentioned this in my previous entry, I thought I would go ahead and write about it. Unfortunately, I do not own this book! Fortunately, it is available at quite a few libraries yet.

Here is the cover. As you can see, the cover looks like a pencil drawing with two other colors involved, yellow and green. It really looks very hospitalish with those colors, too. It was published in 1981, almost two years before I read it for the first time.

When I was 8 years old and in third grade, we were on our weekly visit to the school library. In my elementary school, the library was housed in the cafeteria! The stacks were around the perimeter of the room, with the rows of lunch tables in the middle. Anyway, I remember looking to see if any Judy Blume books were in (no, they were all out) and then started looking for something else that might be interesting. That’s when I discovered this book.

Right away, I was intrigued by the “blurb” on the book jacket. It begins: “Jenna is adamant.” This lined hooked me. What in the world did ‘adamant’ mean? I had to find out. It turned out that she has Juvenile Rhuematoid Arthritis, and would spend some time in the hospital over the summer to get it under control.

I started reading this book, and this is the first time that I actually stayed up really late so that I could finish the book. I even read under the covers. I had to find out what happened to Jenna and Angie. It was also the first book I ever cried while reading. However, there were plenty of funny parts. As a fairly naiive reader, this was also the first time that I realized that someone could write things in a book such as this example from page 19, “When Mrs. Anderson came around the desk to inspect me more closely, I gulped. I’d never seen such an enormous woman. Her breasts were about the size of basketballs.”

It never occurred to me until many, many years later – when I was in my 20s – that cortisone is a steroid and that is could be similar to prednisone. In my preteen and teen years, I took prednison on and off for my asthma episodes. It never occurred to me that this medication could have led to my weight gain. However, in this book, Jenna is on cortisone for her JRA, and she starts looking “puffy”. She and Angie have a whole conversation about this. I thought it was funny at the time.

On the last page (113), there was another term that I did not understand as an 8-year-old (but it never occurred to me to ask anyone about). Here is the quote:
” ‘Maybe I won’t do it today,’ I said, ‘and maybe I’ll need a souped-up wheelchair to do it, but I’m going to fly this kite all by myself.’ “

What did “souped-up” mean? I remember wondering back then what that meant. I didn’t really think that meant a wheelchair covered in soup (although that was a funny mental picture to me), but what else could it mean? And let’s look the the third to last sentence of the book: “Yoyo looked at me like she was trying to figure out what size straight jacket I should wear.” I do realize I was perhaps a very naive 8-year-old, but I really had no idea what a straight jacket was, and why one would be needed. At that time, I figured that if it was like the beautiful Scandenavian wool sweater my aunt had given me that made me break out in hives and was forever torturing me, then I wouldn’t want a straight jacket.

Really, this is a very good book. Jenna learns how to deal with different people in the hospital, and gains a lot of maturity for an almost-12 year old. She deals with making new friends and loses one to death (Jenna screams for a long time when she finds out). I have never met anyone else who has said they’ve read this book, either. I enjoyed it so much. I have to admit, it gave me a taste for Lurlene McDaniel’s books later as well as other tragic stories.

It inspired me to start writing myself. I really saw the possibilities of good writing. Yes, I was also reading the the Little House books, Heidi, Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, but it was this one that made me think that I could write! Shortly after finishing this book, I attempted to write my first ‘novel’. It was five written pages long, and really bad, but I was proud of it then. I hid it away in my desk and didn’t let anyone else read it. It was my secret. I was proud that I wrote it, but not confident enough to let anyone else see it. It was delicious to have my secret story hidden away.

Since I have focused on books with autoimmune diseases these past two posts, I think the next post will be about Betty Ren Wright’s The Dollhouse Murders. Yes, I think a nice ghost/murder story would be good change of topic.

Title(s): 13 is Too Young to Die (1980 & 1989) by Isaacsen-Bright

I was nine when I first saw the cover of the paperback 13 is Too Young to Die (1980 version). I was in fourth grade, and one of my classmates that I was not friends with had this book. She had probably gotten it through a school book fair. I was immediately intrigued by the title, and wanted to read that book. Badly. (I read Rebecca Jones’ Angie and Me the year before, but that book will be the subject of a future entry. And this was before I discovered Lurlene McDaniel.) The school library and the local public library branch did not have a copy of this book. This was before it was incredibly easy to just look up if any library in the system would have had it. I was too shy to ask the library staff to check at other libraries for me.

So, I kept the title in my head for nearly three years – until the school book fair at my junior high in 7th grade. It was there! Yay! I took some of my hard-earned babysitting money, and bought the book (as well as buying a Lurlene McDaniel book, but that is also the subject of another entry). Then in the early 1990s, in a used bookstore, I found what I thought was just a recent reprinting – but it wasn’t. It has the same name, author, and some of the characters’ names are the same, but the story is different in several ways. More about that later.

Let’s look at the covers first.

Here is the cover of the 1980 version:

Here is the cover of the 1989 version:

(I bought this one to the left new 20 years ago. It looks really beat up now, huh?)

In the first one, the one that intrigued me as a 9-year-old, I learned about lupus. This book also made me think that lupus is automatically fatal. Yes, I am giving away the ending. At age 12, when I finally had the chance to read it, I cried and cried. Very melodramatic! I know this book was written thirty years ago now, but all it says on page 86 is that Lupus is “a mystery disease”. Yes, from what I know, it still is somewhat of a mystery, but this book never says that it is an autoimmune disease. Surely this was known back then. I know this book was intended for pre-teens, but still, it could have been a little more specific. I can also see that this book would be a little out of date these days. There are a lot of people out there living with lupus, and I’ve known some.

Alexa is the main character, and the story is in the third person, but told from her perspective. The story opens with Alexa noticing how foggy the island she lives on is, and then her best friend informs her that the island is “like a Polaroid postcard” (page 2) it is so clear and bright.

In chapter two, her mother gets on her case for not taking care of her skin properly. If she were, Alexa wouldn’t have such an ugly rash on her face. Alexa thinks maybe she just scrubbed her face too hard. She mentions going to a dermatologist, but her mom puts her down for that idea, and insists she just must not have good habits.

Well, finally, Alexa ends up in the hospital. However, they, the doctors and her parents, will not tell her what’s going on. They keep her in the dark until she overhears her parents talking. This is how she learns she’s going to die. She still doesn’t know why. After this, the whole story becomes one question. . . will Alexa make it to her 14th birthday? Because “13 is too young to die”. She goes to her school dance, she goes to Disney World with her friends, and her dad gets her the boat he promised for her 14th birthday.

I loved this book as a 12-year-old.

Later, when I was browsing at a used book store (Old Book Barn in Forsyth, Illinois – the best used book store ever!), I found the second version. It was wasn’t just re-released. It was re-written! Again, the main character is named Alexa and the question is if she will make it to age 14. However, this Alexa is a ballet dancer. She is going to actually be in an onstage ballet! Woo-hoo! Then she starts getting dizzy. It turns out she has a brain tumor.

Really, this second version is better written than the first one. It’s not as (what I perceive as) amateurish, but there is still “wailing” and such other descriptions. ” ‘Just go away, and leave me alone,’ Alexa wailed” (68). If it were me with the brain tumor, I might want to wail, but I would not write it this way. The funny thing is, years ago, as a teen, I wanted to write a book this way – I thought I HAD to write with words other than “said” if even that. Now I know better, and know how to find one’s voice in writing.

I will have to decide soon which book or books to post about next. There are so many to choose from!