Klages, Ellen. The Green Glass Sea. New York: Viking, 2006.
Klages, Ellen. Performed by Julie Dretzin. The Green Glass Sea. New York: Recorded Books, 2007. CD.
Ellen Klages’s The Green Glass Sea is set in America during World War II and follows eleven-year-old Dewey Kerrigan on her trip from St. Louis, where her Nana has just suffered a stroke, to New Mexico, where her father is working on a top secret gadget that will end WWII for the army. Dewey, who is interested in constructing machines, befriends Suze Gordon, an art-lover, and they learn to help each other through the difficulties of living through a war.
Dewey is intelligent, introverted, but the other girls at her school, who call her Screwey Dewey, shun her. Readers may be able to identify with being an outsider and trying to find one’s place in the social world. Despite the way others treat her, Dewey is secure in her identity and does not let others upset her. She is a strong, positive role model. On the other hand, Suze is more outgoing and longs to fit in with the other girls at school, who secretly call her a truck. Trying to find her place with the popular girls, Suze contributes to the insults inflicted on Dewey, until their lives are thrown together, and Suze realizes that Dewey is the real friend for which she has been searching.
The clothing, language, and habits, such as smoking, elucidate the setting of the 1940s, and Klages does not stray from the tragedy that curses war time or the ominous and yet innovative intrigue of developing the atom bomb. World War II provides an appropriate backdrop for the pain and growth that Dewey must endure. It emphasizes the dualities of life and how they entwine – power and destruction, science and art, life and death.
At the end of her novel, Klages provides a brief note about the historical accuracy of The Hill, and cites sources for readers to find additional information.
Lastly, the audio recording of the novel provides a more dramatic experience; Dretzin’s reading captures the turmoil as well as the innocence of the characters within the story. It allows readers to close their eyes and picture the 1940s unfurling before them.
2007 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction
2007 Judy Lopez Memorial Award for Children's Literature
Starred Review in Publisher's Weekly
"Details about the era-popular music, pastimes and products-add authenticity to the story as do brief appearances of some historic figures including Robert Oppenheimer....the author provides much insight into the controversies surrounding the making of the bomb and brings to life the tensions of war experienced by adults and children alike."
Starred Review in The Horn Book
Students may read other Ellen Klages novels, including the sequel to this one White Sands, Red Menace.
This books would be great to read while studying World War II and the creation of the first nuclear bomb.
Students could create collages, as Suze does, to depict the novel or the time period.