Review: Red Scare
Review: Red Scare
By Liam Francis Walsh
April 2022, Scholastic
Young readers who pick up this book won’t know much about the red scare. In NYC it’s not part of the social studies curriculum until 8th grade if they even get that far. (By the time NYC students hit the mid-twentieth century it’s sort of a marathon to get to the current day before the end of the school year.) So young readers might lack context for this story. It might not matter.
Even before the title page, the story grabs the reader’s attention with a chase scene. Two cops and two plainclothes men (later identified as FBI agents) are chasing a man with a briefcase. He jumps out of a 6th-floor window and disappears. As if he’s just flown away.
The story then pivots to Peggy and her twin brother Skip. Peggy is recovering from polio. Skip is living in the shadow of his sister’s illness as well as his father’s return from war. Both are taunted and harassed by classmates, but each is trying to deal with it separately rather than come together.
When Peggy is helping her mother clean motel rooms, she sneaks off to an empty room to read. That’s when the fugitive rents the room that she’s hiding in. Peggy thinks she’s being stealthy when she sneaks out, but she forgets one of her crutches and when she returns to the room, she finds it outside of the door. Hidden inside is a device that allows her to fly.
In the meanwhile, the fugitive is found dead. The FBI agents are after the mysterious device that allows a human to fly. Clever Peggy hides it from them. But first, she experiments with it, including her new next-door neighbor, whose father has a shady past tied to suspicion of Communist activity, in her adventures. The duo is in danger from their peers, community members, and most of all the FBI agents who cross a thin line between protector and aggressor.
Though the characters are young, the book is geared to slightly older readers with its many mature themes and scenes. Peggy and Skip’s father has returned from the Korean war and was severely injured. He relives the horrors of the war. There are many chase scenes and guns drawn. In one scene Peggy is running away from someone who looks like the man who was found dead in the motel room, and she runs through a movies theater playing a risque film. Older readers won’t mind that the characters are younger than them as the adventure is highly charged.
The artwork is a throwback to 1940s comics. Peggy and Skip’s eyes are reminiscent of Little Orphan Annie comic strips from the 40s and other similar comics. The bright coloring and classic crash, boom, pow action words create a classic comic vibe.
This is an excellent read. I am curious to see how young readers react since so few will have context. I can’t wait to share it with them.
About Esther Keller
Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. She also curates the Graphic Novel collection for the NYC DOE Citywide Digital Library. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.
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