Can a book for younger readers (middle school aged) combine aspects of the Civil Rights Movement, the Cold War and Cuba and still be entertaining? After reading Isaiah Campbell's The Troubles of Johnny Cannon I would definitely say yes.
The book is set in 1961, a heady time in America to say the least. Cullman, Alabama is a small town some fifty miles north of Birmingham. We learn though that the town has some big personalities and even bigger secrets. Johnny Cannon lives with his dad, a war veteran and his older brother who is his hero. Soon his brother leaves for a stint with the military and Johnny is left to help his dad with the day to day running of the house. He has a lot to deal with including the weird behavior of his dad, not to mention school where he has daily face offs with his nemesis, Eddie.
I couldn't help but detect echoes of American classics such as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Johnny is a boy who is usually left to his own devices and he does things that were they done today would be frowned upon (and Social Services called). That is one advantage to a historical fiction such as this one, things can be said and actions done that would be totally out of place today.
I have to admit that the historical setting and the authenticity of the main character's voice was refreshing. As is the case with most well developed characters he grows and matures by the novel's conclusion. He is not the smartest or most academically inclined person but he has a good people radar which he uses to good effect. I recommend this book for students in grades 6-8 and I think it is a worthwhile read for students partly due to the historical time period covered and partly because of the accurate descriptions of some of the civil unrest that characterized this period in America's history.
You can find this and other similar reviews on my site here.