Sunday, May 16, 2021

MMGM: War and Millie McGonigle by Karen Cushman

It's 1941 and life has been difficult for Millie McGonigle''s family lately. First, there was the Depression. Her dad lost his job, and still hasn't found one. Younger sister Lily is sickly with lung problems and takes up all her mother's attention, while younger brother Pete, 5, wants all of Millie's attention. Then the war started in Eurpoe and Millie began worrying that the Nazis might just come over to San Diego and drop their bombs. To make matters worse, on Millie's twelfth birthday her beloved Gram Tillie suddenly passed away, but not before she gave Millie a blank notebook and told her "Things that seem lost or dead - keep them alive and safe in your book. Whatever is lost stays alive if we remember it." And so Millie turned her notebook into The Book of Dead Things, Mission Beach, San Diego, Californiz, 1941. Now, Millie combs the beach looking for all kinds of dead things to draw in her book. 

And then the news that Gram's cousin Edna would be coming to live with the McGonigle's and Millie would have to share her bed with her. Edna is a little off center, seemingly unaware of what's going on around her and that there is a war happening. One good thing that happens is the her nemesis Dicky (Icky) Fribble's aunt and cousin Rosie move in with his family. Rosie is older than Millie, but the two girls hit it off immediately.

Then Pearl Harbor is attacked and everything changes again. Her dad gets a job as a clerk in the Navy Exchange, unable to join the army because of a heart murmur, and her mom begins welding school. Now, there are air raid drills in school, heavy black curtains on the windows at night, and rationing. Soon, kids are playing war games and collecting metal, fat and newspapers for the war effort. And, of course, Japanese hatred soon rears its ugly head in none other than Icky Fribble and his mother. Through it all, Millie continues to add drawings of dead things to her notebook. 

War and Millie McGonigle is such an interesting story. It takes place between Saturday, September 20, 1941 and Sunday, February 28, 1942, mimicking Millie's diary entries, so most accountings are on Saturday and Sunday, with only a few on weekdays. 

Millie is a sensitive character, who wallows in grievances, afraid to let go and enjoy life, because what if... But, over the course of the novel, she begins to change and watching that happen at the pivotal age between childhood and being a teen is what makes her so interesting. Add a war to that time, and you have a lively, endearing character. And while Millie's obsession with her The Book of Dead Things sounds rather morbid at first, it becomes an exploration of what to value in life for her. 

Readers will find plenty of daily home front details in this character driven novel. But my favorite aspect of the book is that it is set at the beach at a time when it was not such an attraction for tourists. In that respect, it will remind readers of Jennifer L. Holms' books Turtle in Paradise and Full of Beans, even though they take place in Key West, Florida. They all share the same salty air, smelly seaweed, cawing seagulls atmosphere that is so beachy. Cushman has really nailed the setting aspect of the novel. 

Hand this to readers interested in historical fiction, WWII, tween girls, and anyone looking for a good home front story.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an eBook gratefully received from NetGalley

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and you can see all of this week's wonderful MMGM books thanks to Greg at Always in the Middle


  1. Thanks for your comment, too, Alex. This is another book that's new to me & it does sound interesting, that timing of the first year after Pearl Harbor. What a fraught time it must have been for everyone, but especially on the coasts. Thanks!

  2. I've heard about this book vaguely, but I appreciate getting to hear a more detailed perspective on it! Millie sounds like a well-written character, and I'm intrigued by how the regular aspects of Millie's life are blended with the war going on around her. Thanks so much for the great review!

  3. It sounds like a lot is going on in Millie's life in a relatively short period of time. I enjoy stories set in WWII so I'll add this to my TBR list. Thanks!

  4. I hadn't heard that Cushman had a new book out! This sounds fantastic. My grandfather was stationed in Pearl Harbor, but narrowly escaped being there for the attack, because his ship was in California for repairs. I don't read a lot of WWII books, but this sounds amazing!

  5. Love the cover. I've read quite a few books this past year with a WWII time period. The Pearl Harbor angle is a definite draw for me to find a copy of this book. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  6. This book has been on my list to check out. Excellent review. I love historical fiction and different offerings about WW II. My dad and uncle served during WW II in Europe but not in the Pacific area. Thanks for sharing today!

  7. Well, I do love historic fiction, and this sounds like a really good one. Thanks for the heads up. I hadn't heard of this.

  8. Ooh! I love historical fiction. And I do have a soft spot for all things WW2. Thanks for sharing.