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01 February 2006 THE LOUD SILENCE OF FRANCINE GREEN by Karen Cushman, Clarion, August 2006, ISBN: 0-618-50455-9


"I've learned to hate Russians

All through my whole life

If another war starts

It's them we must fight

To hate them and fear them

To run and to hide

And accept it all bravely

With God on my side.


"But now we got weapons

Of the chemical dust

If fire them we're forced to

Then fire them we must

One push of the button

And a shot the world wide

And you never ask questions

When God's on your side."

--Bob Dylan


"We closed our books and knelt down in the aisles next to our desks. After a quick Our Father and Hail Mary, Sister Basil said, 'Our Lady, holy Mother of God, we humbly beseech you to intercede for us with your divine Son that we may be with Him forever in Paradise. Ask Him to halt the Red Tide pouring out from Russia and lead the Godless communists to the True Church, for only then will there be Salvation for the Russian people and true peace for us all. And, if it be His will, may we be victorious over Saints Peter and Paul today on the volleyball court.'

"I knew Saints Peter and Paul was a school, like All Saints, but still Iimagined two old bearded saints in robes playing volleyball. I gurgled in my throat at the picture but didn't dare laugh out loud. Sister Basil would tie my tongue to the flagpole or something.

"Sophie gave a muffled snort. It was not muffled enough.

"Sister Basil rose from the ground like a column of smoke. 'Stand up,' she commanded. We stood.

" 'Not all of you,' Sister said, grabbing her pointer and smacking it on the floor. 'Just Miss Bowman.' The rest of us knelt down again. I leaned back against my heels. This could take awhile.

" 'You have a comment, Miss Bowman?'

" 'It just seemed silly, Sister, praying to win a ball game. Does God really care who wins?'

" 'That will do, Sophie.'

" 'And what if students at Saints Peter and Paul School pray too? What will God do?

" 'That's enough Sophie.'

" 'And why are we praying to win a volleyball game anyway when there are real problems in the world?'

"Sister Basil banged her pointer on the blackboard. 'Blessed Harvey, patron saint of croaking frogs, save me from this child!'

" 'And...'

"Sister lunged at Sophie, grabbed her by her hair, and pulled her to the front of the classroom. 'Enough! Enough of your interruptions, your blasphemy, and your impertinence! Here,' she said, pointing to the wastebasket in the corner, 'stand here where everyone can see you. And think about your sins.' Sophie stood next to the wastebasket, but Sister grabbed her hair again. 'No, Miss Bowman, in the basket. And don't slouch.' "


Francine Green is an eighth-grader at All Saints School for Girls (aka the Sinless Academy for the Maidenly). Francine is a middle child who has never questioned authority or even contemplated such a concept until she becomes friends with Sophie Bowman, a motherless, only child, whose father is a Hollywood scriptwriter. Sophie, who lives in Francine's neighborhood, is enrolled in All Saints after being expelled from the local public school for writing, "There is no free speech here" on the gymnasium floor in red paint.


In 1949 Hollywood, Francine and Sophie are living through a time of tremendous fear as Russia has just tested its first nuclear weapon, and President Truman has called for development of the hydrogen bomb.


"I knew what atomic bombs could do. I had seen Fox Movietone newsreels of Japanese cities turned to rubble, of exploding buildings, children on fire, piles and piles of charred bodies. And the world was getting more dangerous. I pulled the blankets over my head."


THE LOUD SILENCE OF FRANCINE GREEN is a tale of repression, Reds, blacklistings, and bomb shelters during the opening days of the Cold War. Francine is to be forever transformed through her friendship with Sophie, who questions everything including the existence of God and Hell, the wisdom of the arms race and of those responsible for it. Of course, for Sophie to do so makes her the ultimate nail sticking out, just begging to be hammered back into place.


"I looked at the statue of the Virgin Mary in the corner. Her face was gentle but sad, not only for her son, Jesus, who suffered and died on the cross, but for poor Sophie in the wastebasket, the pagan babies in Africa, and all the rest of us, wondering about Hell and communists and bombs."


"How can I save my little boy

From Oppenheimer's deadly toy

There is no monopoly of common sense

On either side of the political fence

"We share the same biology

Regardless of ideology

Believe me when I say to you

I hope the Russians love their children too"



One of the most revealing aspects of the story is the manner in which each member of Francine's family reacts to the threat of nuclear war: from her father with his "martoonies" and his confidence in the government, to her little brother, Artie, who begins having nightmares and sleepwalking episodes, to Francine, herself, who has seen the newsreels and thus knows very well that crawling under her classroom desk ("Stop, Drop, and Cover") is not going to do a damned thing to save her if a nuclear bomb really falls on LA.


What is happening elsewhere in Francine's community of Hollywood is brought home through the darkly absurd scenes in which the Petrovs, a nice old couple who escaped Russia, have their little grocery store repeatedly trashed for their crime of being from Russia, and with the introduction of Mr. Mandelbaum, through whom the reader can get an understanding of what blacklisting really meant.


" 'If there is no God,' Sophie said, 'there is no Hell, so I'm going to pray there is no God.'

" 'Who are you going to pray to?'

"She shook her head. 'I don't know. It's very puzzling.' "


Everything that Karen Cushman can do right--her substantial abilities as a writer that have brought her both a Newbery Medal and a Newbery Honor for her work--is present in THE LOUD SILENCE OF FRANCINE GREEN. But, for the first time, Karen Cushman has not only written entertaining historic fiction with great female protagonists, she's written something that has both made me angry and has made me cry.


Richie Partington




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