cover image The Gadget

The Gadget

Paul Zindel. HarperCollins, $16.89 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-06-028255-4

Zindel maintains the page-turning immediacy of his recent novels (The Doom Stone; Reef of Death) while examining a serious piece of WWII history: the making of the atomic bomb. Through the eyes of 13-year-old Stephen, the son of one of the scientists working in Los Alamos, N.Mex., Zindel reveals the moral dilemmas lurking behind a veil of secrecy. Stephen's father works side by side with Robert Oppenheimer and other renowned physicists. Stephen gets wind of the danger involved in their covert experiments after one of the scientists is hospitalized; the victim, Dr. Soifer, piques Stephen's curiosity and alerts him to the potential disasters that could result from the ""Gadget."" Stephen befriends Tilanov, whose father also works on the base, and they set out together to find answers about the mysterious project, an investigation that leads to danger and disillusionment. In Stephen, Zindel combines a canny mix of innocence and intelligence, and thus allows readers to examine carefully a complex set of questions about moral and political issues and responsibilities. The novel challenges idealized views of patriotism and unconditional trust. Readers will come away from this story with much food for thought, and can go on to further reading thanks to the book's comprehensive list of historical events and descriptions of figures who played a key role in constructing these first bombs. Ages 11-up. (Mar.)