Book Review: This Is Just a Test

No, the “test” is not a standardized test. The “test” in This Is Just a Test, a novel by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang is a nuclear bomb test. In this solid novel for middle school readers, set in the time of folks watching “The Day After,” we’re brought into the world of a character trying to make sense of a very confused world.

David Da-Wei Horowitz, with a Chinese grandmother and a Jewish grandmother at odds with each other over cultural heritage, is prepping for his bar mitzvah as the world shudders in the face of Nuclear War. The television show “The Day After” sent ripples through pop culture (as I well remember) and David wonders when the world might end.

The book has serious themes, but it is also a lighthearted look at a mixed-culture kid trying to find friendship and understanding, and finding ways to bring family together even in the midst of disagreement (the bar mitzvah surfaces tensions). Meanwhile, David is writing to another kid in Russia, a Jewish boy who will share in David’s bar mitzvah ceremonies from afar (since he cannot do it in the USSR). And he and a friend are building a bomb shelter, and debating the ethics of who gets to be invited in to the shelter.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this novel, and yet, once I was into the story, I really appreciated how the authors tackled such sensitive issues of culture, religion and global politics with grace and humanity. Maybe it helped that I was a kid during these same years of the story. The novel brings to light the Cold War fears of a generation (maybe not re-lit with the spats between the US and North Korea, and Iran).

Peace (bring it),

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