First published April 11, 2017
My rating: 4 out of 5
*I received a free advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Short Of It:
A unique, quirky story involving a comic book writer, parallel universes and growing up in the time of the atomic bomb.
The Long Of It:
Debbie Reynolds Biondi grew up in a version of Earth very similar to ours, with one key difference. In Atomic Mean Time, WWII never really ended and the world is trapped in a nuclear arms race, with mutually assured destruction a daily threat.
Now Debbie resides in Earth Standard Time, our version of the world, and she makes a living as the author of the popular "Sputnik Chick: Girl With No Past" comics, which feature an ass-kicking heroine. The thing is, Sputnik Chick is based on Debbie's own experiences -- and the time has come to finally tell her origin story.
Though her flashbacks, we learn how Debbie was tasked with saving the world from nuclear free-for-all and imminent catastrophe, all while navigating life as a teenager in the 70s. She's from a small industrial town called Shipman's Corners in Canusa (the area around Niagara Falls, sort of its own nation in Atomic Mean Time) where the military-industrial complex is in full swing. Bomb manufacturer ShipCo has its hands in ever facet of the town, right down to the special calming grapes used to make ShipCo wine (helpful in keeping everyone's minds off the horrors of nuclear war).
"Sputnik's Children" is in large part a coming-of-age story; Debbie matures from a child into a woman over the course of the book, but I'm pleased that it didn't come across at all YA-ish. I especially enjoyed her teen romance with John Kendal (and her reaction to the flak they got over their interracial relationship in a time when it was taboo). And Favro paints an fascinating picture of what it'd be like to grow up when the world could literally end any day at the push of a few buttons.
Favro also creates a wonderful sense of time and place in her novel. She makes it so easy to picture Shipman's Corners, and there are plenty of fun '70s references. I also loved all the little details that set Atomic Mean Time apart from the world as we know it.
I've read a few other books dealing with parallel universes lately ("Dark Matter," "Maybe in Another Life," "All Our Wrong Todays") and, like those, this one feels wholly original -- and it's also got plenty of fun and quirk mixed in with the serious bits (you know, saving humanity from itself). That said, I did have a couple gripes. It was a bit draggy at times, and I desperately wanted to know more about adult present-day Debbie and more science-y details about how exactly she went about saving the world. Still, this genre-bender is definitely worth a read!