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“The Bomb,” “Bunker 10″

by Payal Kapadia

“The Bomb” Theodore Taylor, Harcourt; 2007; 195pp.

Theodore Taylor’s “The Bomb” is a very readable history lesson, quite unlike anything you might have been taught at school about the United States’ early experimentation with atomic warfare, way back in the mid-1940s. You might already know that American war planes dropped the world’s first two atomic bombs, nicknamed “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in August 1945. The explosions — and their radioactive fallout — killed and maimed hundreds of thousands, thus hastening the end of World War II but at a terrible human cost.

Author Theodore Taylor’s “The Bomb” fictionalizes a much smaller historical event, the sort that gets barely two lines of mention in a typical history textbook — the American decision to use Bikini Atoll, a small island-paradise in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, as an atomic testing site.

Why would you care about far-flung Bikini, 6 1/2-km long and less than 1-km wide, 3,500 km southwest of Hawaii? Because the author spins a compelling, heart-wrenching story told from the point of view of 16-year-old Sorry Rinamu.

For Sorry and his family, Bikini is neither tourist resort nor Ground Zero — it is home. So when U.S. government officials persuade the trusting islanders to relocate for two years in the interests of “world peace,” Rinamu sees through the lies. He realizes that his island will be irreversibly ruined, and that it will never be safe to return to the only place on Earth he can call his own. Can he stop the first bomb from being dropped on Bikini — and how much must he sacrifice to save his land?

Taylor’s tale is a powerful eye-opener about how people and principles are easily compromised in the face of grand ideas like “scientific advancement” and “world peace.” The atomic bomb, he shows, didn’t just decimate Japan; it brought destruction to an entire way of life for the people of Bikini Atoll who did not even have an inkling of how the world had changed beyond their island home. Governments lie — and history is littered with events enacted on those who will never be important enough to have a place in it. There couldn’t be a more passionate argument for peace — nor could there be a better time to make it.

Note: For teens 14-18 years.

“Bunker 10″ J.A. Hendersonr, Harcourt; 2007; 253pp.

From Taylor’s story of a bomb in the historical past, we move to “Bunker 10,” J.A. Henderson’s slick yarn of a bomb in a highly improbable future. This is video game and catastrophe movie bundled into one.

“I don’t much like the idea of ‘children’s’ books,” the author has said. And he’s not kidding here: His hellish tale is set in a secret military base peopled by “homicidal maniacs, terrorist infiltrators and a deadly infection.” The heroes “just happen to be kids,” as he puts it. Who says childhood is a lark, anyway?

Certainly not the seven teenagers growing up in Pinewood Military Installation. They all possess phenomenal mental skills. When they’re not hacking into closely guarded computer networks or developing the inventions of the future, they’re working on “the Machine” — a possible mode of time travel.

The story really gets rolling on Christmas Eve, 2007, when the kids are bored — and Jimmy Hicks, the smartest of the lot, determines to impress his girlfriend, Leslie, by sneaking her off the base on a romantic date. With a little help from his friends, of course.

Meanwhile, the youngest genius of them all, May-Rose, has been holed up in Bunker 10, Pinewood’s deepest lab, and the teenagers are starting to wonder why she hasn’t surfaced. That’s not all: A line of olive trucks are jolting their way to Pinewood with a payload of troops dressed in jet-black combat fatigues and no identification tags. They’re delivering something — and it ain’t Santa.

Next thing you know, May-Rose has turned into one of those child-devils straight out of movies such as “The Ring” or “The Omen,” and all the soldiers at Pinewood are killing each other. And somewhere, a clock is ticking out the time until the base self-destructs.

Virtual simulations, genetic pollution, child assassins — it all sums up to a hodgepodge that doesn’t mean too much, but who cares? Never before has a fast, mindless read been so thoroughly enjoyable.

Note: For teenagers 14-18 years.