Debbie Duncan is a friend of mine from Twitter. We are fellow baseball fans and Bay Area residents. Debbie sent me an ebook of her new YA novel, Caller Number Nine, so that I could read it on my recent trip. Caller Number Nine is a semi-autobiographical story about a thirteen-year-old girl named Laura Hill who, in 1967, wins a radio contest, the prize for which is a weekend in Hawaii with her favorite DJ. The Hawaii trip (which her parents may or may not let her go on) is set against a backdrop encompassing the Vietnam War and the struggle for Civil Rights for both blacks and women.
The author clearly was a teenager (or at least old enough to remember things clearly) in 1967. The details in Caller Number Nine are too authentic for it to be otherwise. I think that young readers will find many of the tidbits in Caller Number Nine surprising. For example, Laura visits McDonalds for the first time. Imagine being thirteen years old and never having been to McDonalds? Imagine a world where the Beatles are still together, and you hear The Doors play Light My Fire for the first time? Imagine seeing Martin Luther King speak in person (and not knowing what's going to happen to him). Remember when people could smoke on airplanes, and you could arrive at the airport just a few minutes before your flight? And so on. There are too many examples to even skim the surface.
Even when writing about serious topics, like the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, Duncan keeps Caller Number Nine's tone fairly light-hearted, which I think is a real plus to the book. Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a feel Duncan's writing:
"I decided to pretend nothing had changed. I didn't tell Karen, and I also didn't argue with Mom. But I did ask her to drive me to Topanga Plaza after school. We listened to news on the car radio. Julie Andrews had a movie opening tonight, and Palm Springs was getting ready for college kids on spring break. And half a dozen boys from L.A. were killed in Vietnam. (Chapter 4)
"I didn't know how "green" smelled until I stepped off that airplane. And the warm, moist air felt amazingly comfortable because of the breeze. When I made it to the bottom of the stairs without falling, I told Carol. "I don't have any jeans." (Chapter 15)
"People who are worth caring about... don't care what you look like" (Chapter 23)
Laura is a plausible and engaging character. She has a pathological fear of making telephone calls to people she doesn't know (she must be an introvert). She gets excited about things, and cries as though the world is coming to an end when life don't go her way. She wants to change the world. She feels real. I cared about what was happening to her.
I didn't find Laura's love interest, Todd, to be equally plausible, I must admit. There's an abruptness to the way that he approaches dating Laura that didn't feel real to me. I also thought that Laura's problems were sometimes a bit too easily resolved. While I liked her and wanted her problems to be resolved, I was a bit let down when things resolved too quickly. Caller Number Nine is clearly a labor of love on the part of the author. I think that a third-party editor (despite the presence of a most impressive critique group) might have pushed the author to be more ruthless in this area.
But for anyone looking for a window into 1967, when radio rules, girls are just starting to wear jeans, and early protests for the Vietnam War are blooming, Caller Number Nine is well worth a look. The cover, designed by Christy Hale, is eye-catching and perfect for the book. Caller Number Nine is available as an eBook from Amazon and other locations.
Publisher: Debbie Duncan (@debbieduncan)
Publication Date: August 10, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the author
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).