Bertie’s War by Barbara Tifft Blakey takes the reader on a short trip back in time to the turbulent 60’s where Communists and bomb shelters loomed large on everyone’s radar. For twelve year old Roberta, or “Bertie”, it is a reality that stifles her with fear. But, at age twelve, pretty much everything seems to strike fear into Bertie’s heart.
For most of Bertie’s life, she has used “pretend” as a way to escape her anxieties, retreating into her imagination to places that are safe and where she can control the outcome. However, as she is maturing, as she is caught in the in-between place of childhood and young adult, she is finding less comfort in her private world of pretend. Or, maybe, the world and its implications are becoming so big, they are encroaching on her ability to be a child. Either idea is something Bertie really doesn’t want to contemplate.
Thus the reader finds himself in the trenches of the mind of a twelve year old, a mind with quite a fertile imagination, at an age most of us adults wish to never revisit. Yet, author Barbara Tifft Blakey takes us there with care and tenderness, with honesty and and humor. The lessons learned at such an impressionable age will last a life time for Bertie and help younger readers to see that there is a bigger picture in each situation, that their insecurities, although normal, should not be allowed to define them or have the last say in their character.
My eleven year old could certainly relate to the power of pretend from Berite’s perspective; in fact, reading about Bertie sometimes made me think my daughter must have been secretly observed. Yet the times inwhich Bertie lived were a little closer to what I remember and what I can relate to growing up in the early 70’s when my dad kept a large container of non-perishables in the garage “in case the Russians attacked”. Bomb shelters and Communists were made much more of in the media in my day than the threat of Islam and Jihad are in the present politically correct climate. Still, the dilemma of how much to let the big problems facing our nation affect the oft bigger problems of sorting through life when you're twelve can be overwhelming at any point in history.
Besides missiles in Cuba, Bertie worries about having the approval of her father who is frequently stern and aloof. Trying to win an elusive nod of approval from him becomes almost an obsession. Trying to stay out of the woodshed (where consequences are meted out) is a close second. If Bertie can just do everything right...then everything will be alright...right?
Seems like a simple equation for peace and happiness but that all unravels in many ways as the reader walks through and processes life a la Bertie. The war that sat at the doorstep of our nation back in the early 60’s will eventually become a minor character as the war within Bertie breaks out on multiple fronts.
Bertie’s War is an excellent Coming of Age story that reveals the depth of complexities within the seemingly simple things of life. Without preaching, it explores matters of the heart while assuming, and eventually healing, with matters of faith.
I hope you will get your own copy of Bertie’s War, from Kregel Publications, by visiting this link. It’s also a great way to expose your child to the issues facing our nation in the early 1960’s without allowing the perversion of the times to taint their innocence.
*I was provided with a free copy of Bertie’s War in exchange for my honest review as part of the TOS Crew.