The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages

“You have a book on hold on the shelf. Are you getting that?” the librarian asked me.

I was over my limit at the check out, and I had already checked the hold shelf, and I didn’t find any books for me. I assessed the stack of books I had gathered up, trying to decide which four I wanted to check out, because that’s all the space I still had on my card.

“I checked just now. I didn’t see any book for me,” I replied. In my mind, I was already thinking of not taking it, because all the books I had reserved so far were historical fiction based in New Mexico for my high schooler’s New Mexico history. I had to pre-read them and I really wasn’t looking forward to reading them. These were not fiction I’d voluntarily pick off the shelves for leisure reading.

“I just put it there.”

I went over to the hold shelf and read the inside flap of the book jacket. I decided to take it.

And I started reading The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages last night. I was actually reading another book, The Glorietta Pass, but it’s just one of those books that you can put down. So I did what I have been doing so much of throughout the years; read multiple books concurrently.

The moment I started reading, I was introduced to Dewey Kerrigan, whom I thought was a man, and it turned out she was a woman, or so I thought. I had opened this book thinking it was an adult historical fiction, so I never expected the main character to be an 11 year old girl named Dewey Kerrigan. It didn’t register to me that it’s a YA fiction, and I did wonder for a while why the print was pretty spaced out compared to the other adult fiction I had been reading. It wasn’t until I flipped and read the back cover of the book that I realized it was a YA fiction and when I saw the Scott O Dell sticker on the front cover, I almost kicked myself for my oversight. I mean, how could I have missed that?!

Dewey Kerrigan is the daughter of a scientist who works with the government during the World War II years. So, if you think WWII and you think New Mexico, Los Alamos should be foremost in your mind. I learned about Los Alamos from hubs. He said that Los Alamos is filled with PhD holders in the nation, even today. Why? As I read this book, I thought about how great a historical fiction this is for learning about history, and as I googled it up just now, I even found a literature guide for it.

From St. Louis, Dewey was put on a train to Lamy, New Mexico, to next be transported to the ‘Hill’ where her father was. Working for the government, her father is one of the scientists involved in the top secret project that should win the war. What Dewey saw once she arrived in New Mexico, I can relate to. Dusty desert, adobe brick buildings, empty expanse of desert, tall majestic cliffs. One of my favorite descriptions of these cliffs was

The walls on the other side of the canyon look like a layer cake that some giant has cut cleanly with a knife.

because that describes exactly what I see each time we drive through New Mexico’s beautiful landscape. I think of my Chocolate Torte, two 9 inch cakes made with stiff peaked egg whites and ground almonds, assembled with whipped chocolate frosting in between the layers and glazed with a rich chocolate glaze and finally covered with chopped almonds on along the side. But of course, the layers existent in these canyons are way more beautiful than in any man-made cake.

Dewey is not a typical girl. What is a typical girl? A typical girl is stereotyped as a ‘girly’ girl. I think, the feminist movement has focused so much on the empowerment of women that it might have gone a little lopsided. Such that a feminine girl is mentioned with almost contempt, and has negative associations with it, while a tomboy, or atypical girl is favored. Even I find myself doing this at times. So do my daughters. Dewey, the daughter of a scientist, is a budding scientist herself. At that time, in the 40s, there were not that many women scientists, and thus Dewey finds adult companionship in Mrs. Gordon, a chemist living on ‘The Hill. Mrs. Gordon understands the importance of Dewey’s inventions in contrast to other adults who may think of them as junk.

Screwy Dewey is what the other girls call her. One of Dewey’s legs is shorter than the other, due to an incident in her infanthood. When she walks with her special shoe, she limps, and the girls view her as a weirdo. She’s practically an outcast to the girls. But to some of the boys, she’s a ‘good kid’ and they even share the secret of their tree house which is ‘not for girls’. I like Dewey. She’s neat, she’s tough, she’s smart, she’s polite, she’s patient, and she’s wise.

What touched me the most about her is her relationship with her Papa, James Kerrigan. Her mother had left when she was a baby, so she only lives with her father. But ever since her father is hired by the White House, he has had to move all over the place, leaving her to live with other people and finally her Nana, who suffered a stroke. This is why Dewey had to finally live with her father on The Hill, because she has not other family members to live with. Her Papa is a loving and doting father, and talks to Dewey about math.

When he said to Dewey, “Dews? Remember the other night when we were talking about how much math and music are related?” ViHart came to my mind. I had found her accidentally and was captivated by her youtube videos. She calls herself a mathemusician.

Obviously, having such a close relationship with her Papa, Dewey is happy in ‘The Hill’, and according to him, “I’ve never seen her happier.” Part of it is being with her beloved Papa, and another part of it is her surrounding. She is literally surrounded by scientists and their ‘junk’ which they throw at the ‘Dump’. She would go to the ‘Dump’ with her wagon and rummage through it for nuts, bolts, springs, screws, metals, wires to add to her paraphernalia of invention materials. She has a knack for inventing mechanical contraptions, and is almost always engrossed in this.

This book is not just about Dewey though. It’s about a friendship between two unlikely girls. This is where Suze comes in, an almost typical girl, who strives to impress the popular girly girls so they would accept her in their midst. Both her parents are scientists, and her mother is Mrs. Gordon, the chemist. Suze on the other hand, is not a budding scientist like Dewey. You would think that if both her parents are hard core scientists, that she’d be inclined in science too, like Dewey is. Here is where I love what Klages has done. Klages made Suze a budding artist, and for me, this highlights the concept of multiple intelligence, and it brings somewhat of a balanced aspect to the subject of ‘smarts’ in this book. The story is set during the creation of the atomic bomb, so having an artistic aspect to it is to me, refreshing.

When Dewey’s Papa is called to Washington, Dewey is left alone, and Mrs. Gordon invites her to live with them, which means Dewey will be sharing a room with Suze. Suze loathes Dewey. She makes this clear too. Remember, Dewey is called Screwey Dewey by the girls, and Suze is one of those girls, even though she is not yet officially accepted in their midst, but she continues to strive hard to impress them.

I had said that this book is about friendship, and so the friendship of Dewey and Suze is the heart of this book. Where Dewey is called Screwy Dewey, Suze is called the ‘Truck’. If you want to know why, I highly recommend you read this book for yourself. Their friendship begins at the death of President Roosevelt. Coming from two different areas of intelligence, both girls learn about each other’s world and strengths and beautifully work together to pursue their individual interests.

Reading a story is to allow yourself to be transported into a world where you are in the driver’s seat, and so whatever transpires in the story will manipulate your emotions. I found myself in tears when tragedy befells Dewey. Her grief became my grief. After I was done reading the book, I even thought,

Why did Klages have to make that happen?

And I came to the conclusion,

She had to do it to move the story along and bring it to the next stage.

Such is it with writing fiction. You have to shake and rattle the reader with a a captivating plot which may include rendering the reader fraught with grief, laughter, or even anger. Klages’ writing is enjoyable to read. The fact that the book is pretty ‘clean’ also earns high ratings from me. There was a part where Charlie invites Dewey to his tree house because he had come upon a stack of magazines ‘with “lots” of pictures “somebody in the enlisted men’s barracks” had thrown away. I dreaded the revelation of these magazines, to tell the truth. After reading YA fiction that tries to be realistically true to culture, and how sad is it that the culture is so twisted with a lot of fawaa7hish, I have come to dread such things.

Alhamdulillah though, these children are geeks, and so, those magazines are LIFE magazines, and the pictures are of army and planes and soldiers and “no movie stars”. Inwardly, I sighed with relief.

Sometimes, tragedies in a story leave the readers with a sense of loss for the victim of that tragedy. That’s what I felt for Dewey, but of course, life goes on, and so life goes on for Dewey. Yet, I can’t help pining for her loss, even when I reached the end.

The atomic bomb, Trinity, and Alamogordo are all familiar words to me. We’ve even been to Alamogordo and to the Space Museum, where we looked at and scrutinized the artifacts from The Manhattan Project. I haven’t been to the Trinity site however and what I learned about it in this book, is quite interesting. The Green Glass Sea is aptly titled. I never knew about trinitite, though this only goes to show how immeticulous I was about ‘scrutinizing’ the artifacts at the Space museum in Alamogordo.

As I reached the end of this book, my interest in this incident in New Mexico grew. I was also piqued by the author’s experience in writing this book. It reminded me of the writing group I had joined back in Ohio, and how indeed working with a group of other writers progresses your own writing and ideas. It’s a support group. Writing is already a lonely profession, and while writing most times require solitude in order for it to work, it also needs companionship. That’s a noteworthy point for anyone who is interested in the field of writing.

When I closed this book last night, I told myself,

“I’m going to look for her sequel, White Sands, Red Menace.”

And that is my ultimate testimony for The Green Glass Sea. Thank you for Dewey, Ellen.

5 thoughts on “The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages

  1. And thank you for your review, Julie. Always nice to know that I got it right, especially for a reader who was ready not to be swayed.

    Happy New Year.

    — Ellen Klages

    • oh thank you for dropping by and dropping a comment, Ellen! : ) I can’t find White Sands, Red Menace at my local library so I’m most probably going to fill in the request for purchase form 😀

  2. Assalamu Alaikum Sister Julie, May Allah reward you for your time, effort and contributions to the literary world. I came across one of your articles in Sisters Magazine some time back. I thought you might be interested in my website, blog, and e-book called Discipline without Disrespecting . They provide parenting support for mothers in need of ways to discipline their children without hitting, shouting or shaming, from an Islamic perspective. Because you are a fan of books and often review them, I was wondering if you would be interested in any of the following:
    1. Adding a link to my website at– on your blog?
    2. Writing a book review of my e-book on your website.
    3. Inviting me for a guest article post
    4. Inviting me as a guest host for an online question and answer interview on the subject of disciplining children.
    Because many of your visitors are women, many would have great interest in and benefit greatly from my subject matter.
    I’ve had numerous articles printed in Sisters Magazine, Al-Ju’muah Magazine and InFocus Newspaper. In addition, my children’s stories have been printed in several juvenile magazines including, Fandangle and Imagination Cafe. I am the founder of Summit Garden Press, the publishing company for Grandma Jeddah’s Library.
    I appreciate your considering this request as a means of helping us mutually build visibility for our sites and benefiting our visitors. Please feel free to contact me at my website if you are interested in any of the above four requests for your site. I will contact you in about a week or so to follow up, insha’Allah. I look forward to hearing from you soon, insha’Allah.
    Your Sister in Islam
    Grandma Jeddah
    Discipline without Disrespecting

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