“Full Body Burden” refers to the amount of radioactivity which can be safely tolerated by a human body through its lifetime. Kristen Iversen‘s memoir combines life within a dysfunctional family and the investigation of a nuclear weapons program cover-up that took place in her own backyard.
Teens will be outraged by the government’s willingness to hide the truth and jeopardize the health of its citizens, and fascinated by the role of secrets in this narrative, both personal and corporate.
There are many opportunities to hear from the author herself, including an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air and the broadcast of her reading at Elliot Bay Books on C-SPAN. For those who prefer to read a Q&A, Crown Publishing provides one on their Read it Forward website.
I especially appreciated this article on the BoingBoing site, which emphasizes the importance of listening to stories like these as we “negotiate what our relationship with technology is going to be in the 21st century.”
Adult/High School–National security has always trumped transparency, but Iverson’s well-researched, firsthand account of the effects of growing up a few miles from Rocky Flats near Denver is a bombshell. The author’s parents chose the subdivision of Bridledale as the perfect place to raise their family as did many others in the rapidly growing Denver suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s. Most had no idea that plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs were being made just a few miles away. They preferred to believe that the plant was making household cleaners. Besides, the plant was a source of many high-paying jobs for the area. How could it be bad? As Iverson grew up, her family became more and more dysfunctional, which she weaves in, out, and around her discoveries of what was really going on at Rocky Flats. Think Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle (Scribner, 2005) with massive nuclear contamination and government secrecy. Ultimately, Rocky Flats was closed but the land is so contaminated that parts of it will remain unusable forever. Following in the tradition of Rachel Carson in her Silent Spring (Houghton, 1962), Iverson has bravely shown us things that we cannot ignore. Teens interested in environmental causes will be amazed at the enormity of this issue and its implications for the future.–Vicki Emery, Lake Braddock Secondary School, Fairfax County, VA