In her sophomore novel, Wright (If It Rains) peels back the shiny veneer of the Atomic Age to reveal families between a rock and a hard place as they try to protect their loved ones. VERDICT: This is historical fiction as it is meant to be told: a glimpse (based on true events) through the eyes of people caught up in the maelstrom of world events beyond their control.
This affecting coming-of-age story by Wright (If It Rains) follows two young women grappling with the consequences of U.S. involvement in WWII. In late 1944, 15-year-old Olive and her family have to move out of their ranch in Jornada del Muerto, N.Mex., after the military commandeers it as part of a new secret testing facility. The family ends up in nearby Alamogordo, where Olive meets Jothe daughter of the sergeant now quartered in Olives old homeat the local high school. Despite a frosty start, the two become friends, even as Olives embitterment about the war makes her skeptical of Jos belief in a benevolent God. As the truth about the military facilitys purpose trickles out, it alters the trajectory of Olive and Jos lives. In 1952, Jo has grown disillusioned and drifted away from God, and she returns to Alamogordo to take care of her estranged fathers affairs as he dies of cancer. She still struggles to make sense of Olives decision seven years earlier to renege on their plans to escape to California together, so Jo determines to find what became of Olive and rediscovers her faith in the process. In Olive and Jo, Wright captures the tenderness of formative friendships, and the characters complicated relationships with Christianity testify to how meandering the path of faith can be. The result offers touching meditations on girlhood, friendship, and God.
Jennifer L. Wrights intelligent and arresting historical novel focuses on two girls who witness the atomic bomb test in New Mexico. In 1944, the US Army claims Olives family ranch through eminent domain. Against her will, shes sent to live with her grandmother in Alamogordo. There, Olive meets Jo, the Christian daughter of the sergeant in charge at the ranch. Olives animosityfueled in part by her feelings of displacement, her agnosticism, confusion about her grandmothers dementia, and the secrecy surrounding whats happening back homepush Jo away. But Jos faith draws Olive closer, and the girls become friends. A few years after the war, disillusioned Jo returns to New Mexico to put old ghosts to rest. The period of Jos transformation is represented as a fascinating, fertile gap; questions about what happened with Olive arise. The girls rift ties into the historic test in Jornada del Muerto. Alternating timelines fuel suspense as they move toward that fateful event, mining the changes that led the girls farther from their roots. Faith plays a clear role in Olive and Jos storiesas do family betrayals. Though Olive is at first repulsed by what she perceives as naïve Christian piety, she thaws as she witnesses the actions of her grandmothers warm congregation. And Jos steadying presence, paired with her vulnerability, pull Olive into the unexpected joys of friendship. Still, the girls are impacted by the tragedies of war, which touch their loved ones. In time, they experience the pain of abandonment, the relief of returning to faith, and healing. In the moving historical novel Come Down Somewhere, a nuclear test has explosive consequences for a burgeoning friendship.