The Green Glass Sea (Ellen Klages)

The Plot
WW2 is raging and the Manhattan Project is well underway. A huge collection of scientists have been secreted at Los Alamos in the New Mexico desert. After her grandmother’s death, Dewey is able to finally rejoin her mathematician father while he works on ‘the gadget’. Though she gets along swimmingly with most of the other scientists, she has a harder time fitting in with the other girls her age who also live in the attached residences.

My Thoughts
You pretty much know a book is going to be okay when Richard Feynman makes a cameo appearance.

The book opens with Dewey, the first main character, awaiting the arrival of her father to come and take her away now that her grandmother has passed on. He does not appear, but instead she is put on a train and sent to New Mexico. On the way we get to know her a little bit, learning of her interest in things electronic and mechanical and seeing how she falls into easy conversation with (male) scientist-types who, after getting over the fact that she’s a female child, are happy to interact with a kindred spirit.

This sets us up for her eventual reunion with her father, which goes just about as she imagines it will, probably somewhat contrary to reader expectations. In fact, given the fact that Dewey and her father clearly get along so well, it’s not at all obvious why he’s taken such a long time to retrieve her. This legitimate question is not answered in the book, which seems to be concerned with other topics.

After the promising start with the mechanically minded Dewey, we shift abruptly to a new point of view character, the less interesting Suze. Though she, too, has her issues fitting in with the ‘typical’ females around her, Suze is a budding artist rather than a scientist, and so does not stand to benefit from being surrounded by some of the greatest math and physics minds of the century. Suze finds Dewey weird and Dewey has little use for Suze, but (surprise!) events contrive to throw the pair together and they eventually grow to respect one another and share a friendship.

Laid out bare, one can see that the plot of this book is completely mundane — rejected by a group of regular girls, outcast girl one eventually finds that outcast girl two isn’t as bad as she thought. There’s even that most annoying of YA/Juvenile cliches, a random character death thrown in to act as a catalyst and force change upon people. The latter especially I can’t defend, because it’s my most despised trope, and I think the same ends could have been achieved here without it.

What makes this book rise above its unoriginal plot is the fascinating and historically interesting setting of the Los Alamos research facility during WW2. The parents of the girls are scientists working on the development of the atomic bomb, and quite frankly are more exciting than they. Suze’s mom, a chemist, in particular is far more interesting than Suze herself. Klages does a wonderful job of bringing Los Alamos and this little scientific community to life for the reader.

In Short
Though the plot of this novel is, strictly speaking, not the most original one ever, it’s an attention-holding story of a friendship developing between two different girls. When taken in conjunction with the excellently drawn historical setting, this becomes a book well worth reading.


7 thoughts on “The Green Glass Sea (Ellen Klages)”

  1. Yay! Glad you liked it.

    I can’t even really object to anything you said.

    Though you make it sound like it should’ve been a shoe-in for the Newbery. It’s even WW2! Maybe it needed more Nazis.

  2. Heh.

    2007, ‘The Higher Power of Lucky’ won. That had randomly dead people /and/ alcoholism. GGS just couldn’t compete, apparently. Maybe it wasn’t set back far enough in the past.

  3. Well, I didn’t mind the inevitable friendship very much. Their eventual acceptance of each other was very believable and natural. I think it was all colored by the random character death which ticked me off no end. :)

  4. Which, in turn, resulted in the out-of-character stupidity of a bunch of adults later on in the story that ticked me off the most. :)

  5. Yeah, that whole business with the misunderstanding was so stupid. It didn’t even make sense that they wouldn’t sit down and tell both girls the plan at once.

  6. It was artifically prolonged in an incredibly annoying way!

    Dewey: Wtf is going on?
    Mrs. Gordon: Well, you see..
    Mr. Gordon: No time to talk! Steaks!
    Suze: We’re going to…
    Mr. Gordon: STEAK!!!
    Mrs. Gordon: Yes, dear. We’ll tell you later, Dewey.
    Dewey: !!?!?!

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