★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5)
And Then the Sky Exploded is the story of Christian Larkin, a ninth-grade student who discovers that his recently-deceased great-grandfather was a member of the Manhattan Project. He travels to Japan in order to make up for what his great-grandfather did in the past.
The first half of the novel features flashbacks to a young girl named Yuko, who survived the attack on Hiroshima and the subsequent years of hardship. These flashbacks offer an unflinching look at the horrors of war.
The rest of the first half focuses on Christian’s life at school leading up to his trip to Japan. And this is where I have some issues.
There are LOTS of subplots here that honestly offer nothing to the larger story. We have Christian’s deaf friend Carson, who only exists to send a website address to the protagonist later in the second-half. We have pages upon pages dedicated to a high school football game. Why is it there? I have no idea. We have Christian’s foil in the character of Lorelei. As far as I can tell, she exists only for a moment of redemption at the very end of the novel that makes very little sense (“swish-swish”).
I briefly thought that the author was purposefully contrasting the horrors of war with the frivolity of Christian’s daily goings-on. But, honestly, the Christian subplots simply seemed frivolous and superfluous. In order to better serve the overall story, they should have been edited out.
The second half of the novel fared far better. The descriptions of Japan made the trip seem exciting and I definitely learned a thing or two about the culture. The eventual meeting between Christian and an elderly Yuko was handled particularly well.
If I were to suggest this novel to my students it would be mainly for the second half and the overall message of redemption. It could also be used to teach empathy as Christian and his friends are all very caring.
Overall, I would give And Then the Sky Exploded ★★★. A nice story with heart that could use a little bit of editing.