Susan Cooper,
Dawn of Fear
(1970; Harcourt, 2007)

The time is World War II, the place, just outside London. Young Derek can hardly remember a time when there weren't daily air raids. The sirens are simply a fact of his young life, the raids thrilling in the extreme. He and his friends Peter and Geoff even get to see a German plane shot down during a raid that interrupts the school day. It doesn't get much more exciting than that.

The war doesn't frighten Derek or his friends, even when a bomb falls on the house next door to the school, leaving only an empty crater and damaging the school in the process -- especially not since that leads to an unexpected two-day holiday. No, it's not until a rival gang of kids initiates violence against them and an older boy leads them in a retaliatory battle that Derek begins to get an understanding of what there is to fear. But neighborhood battles aren't the worst thing that can happen to boys in wartime.

At first, it might seem as though nothing really happens in this slim book, but that would be far from the case. Unlike some of Susan Cooper's other novels, the antagonist is not immediately obvious. (No Dark Riders here.) The enemy isn't the Germans -- not for the boys -- nor even the rival White Road boys. Instead, there is an even more insidious and creeping enemy, and it's not until nearly the end of the book that Derek recognizes it. Only after tragedy strikes does he understand ... and learn what there is to fear.

Dawn of Fear is a powerful story, intended for children approximately 10 and up, and I highly recommend it. Parents are, however, cautioned that there is violence done upon an animal in the story and that, being wartime, there is also death and destruction.

review by
Laurie Thayer

22 March 2008

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