WWII

These WWII YA books may be sexist, but their message for unity is one today’s America needs

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WW2_booksLike John Boyne’s unforgettable The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and the young adult version of Laura Hillenbrand’s inspiring Unbroken, the majority of YA books published today about World War II focus on its horrors. Not so during the war itself, when publishers like Whitman (popular from the early 1900s to the mid-1970s) sought out books written to heighten support for the United States entering the war and muster participation in homefront efforts. Printed on the dust cover of Norma Kent of the WACS, as example, was this call to action:

For Victory—
SAVE COOKING FATS AND GREASE!
Grease makes bullets and shells and bombs
for our soldiers. You can help them win!

Norma Kent of the WACS was one of Whitman’s most popular titles featuring a female protagonist determined to do whatever it takes to help Allied troops defeat Germany and Japan. Set in New England, it tells the exciting story of Norma, a Nancy Drew-like character who tracks down spies and shadowy villains intent on destroying America.

Roy Snell, a WWI veteran and graduate of Wheaton College in Massachusetts, wrote Norma Kent along with two other titles in Whitman’s Fighters for Freedom series: Sparky Ames and Mary Mason of the Ferry Command and Sally Scott of the WAVES. In Sparky Ames, Mary is a pilot and member of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron who, among other adventures, rescues Sparky after his plane is shot down by enemy fire over Brazil. In Sally Scott, Sally breaks regulations by bringing a new kind of radio capable of picking up “secret frequencies” onto an aircraft carrier. Invented by her neighbor, the device causes more trouble than good for Sally–until, that is, her commanding officers learn they can use it to track enemy submarines and save American ships and sailors.

Sally Placed the Black Box on the Study Table
Sally Placed the Black Box on the Study Table

Sally Scott opens with a fellow Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service unit member discovering her secret:

It was mid-afternoon of a cloudy day in early autumn. Sally Scott glided to the one wide window in her room and pulled down the shade. Then, with movements that somehow suggested deep secrecy, she took an oblong, black box, not unlike an overnight bag, from the closet. After placing this with some care on her study table, she pressed a button, and caught the broad side of the box, that, falling away, revealed a neat row of buttons and switches. Above these was an inch-wide opening where a number of spots shone dimly.

After a glance over her shoulder, Sally shook her head, tossing her reddish-brown hair about, fixed her eyes on this strange box and then with her long, slender, nervous fingers threw on a switch, another, and yet another in quick succession. Settling back in her chair, she watched the spots above the switches turn into tiny, gleaming, red lamps that gave off an eerie light.

“Red for blood, black for death,” someone had said to her. She shuddered at the thought.

From the box came a low, humming sound. She turned a switch. The hum increased. She turned it again and once more the hum rose in intensity. This time, however, it was different. Suddenly the hum was broken by a low, indistinct hut—hut—gr—gr—gr—hut—hut—hut.

“Oh!” The girl’s lips parted as a look of surprise and almost of triumph spread over her face.

And then, suddenly, she started to leap from her chair. A key had rattled in the door.

Before she could decide what she should do, the door swung open and someone snapped on a light.

Thanks to the wonderful Project Gutenberg, you can read Sally Scott of the WAVES, Norma Kent of the WACS and Sparky Ames and Mary Mason of the Ferry Command for free and in their entirety. Today’s readers will likely find the books to be sexist, perpetuating gender stereotypes and limiting what women can do.

Indeed, they are sexist. But they’re also great fun, as well as provide an insightful look into the beliefs and mindset of 1943 America. Their message about the need for national unity is also one today’s America needs to hear.

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Manhattan Project anniversary = Wives of Los Alamos giveaway

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Wives of Los AlamosSeventy years ago this week on April 27, 1945, members of the World War II-era Manhattan Project‘s Target Committee met for the first time to begin selecting sites in Japan to drop the atomic bomb. Tokyo Bay, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, Kokura, Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Sasebo were among the possibilities.

The novel The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit–first released in hardcover last year–tells the story of the Manhattan Project from the perspective of the scientists’ wives, who did not know what their husbands were building.

Los Alamos, New Mexico, was the location of the principal research and design laboratory for the atomic bomb’s creation. Yet in the same place this life-destroying force was being created, so were life-enriching ones: babies were born, friendships forged, children grew up, and Los Alamos itself transformed from a boys school on a hill into a community–though not a typical one. Its residents, particularly its wives, were strained by the words they couldn’t say out loud, the letters they couldn’t send home, and the freedoms they didn’t have.

Focused on the remarkable group of women who carved out a life there, The Wives of Los Alamos wonderfully brings this time, project and community to life … And Literary New England has two copies of the paperback to give way to you!

To win one, like Literary New England’s Facebook page and comment on our Facebook post that links to this article. If you already like us on Facebook, just comment. Deadline is midnight tonight, April 29!

You can learn more about TaraShea Nesbit and The Wives of Los Alamos by listening to our 2014 interview with her in the Literary New England Radio Show archives.
WivesOFLosAlamos_abomb_grandeAn image of the first atomic bomb being exploded and observed by Manhattan Project staff. It was detonated at 5:30 a.m. July 16, 1945, at the Alamogordo air base, 250 miles south of Los Alamos. As most people know, Hiroshima and Nagasaki became the two Japanese sites chosen to be destroyed by the nuclear weapons developed by the Manhattan Project. “Woe is me” was Albert Einstein’s reaction.