“Normal” is all twelve-year-old Hazel has ever wanted to be. But with a genius father, an eccentric mother, and a sky-high I.Q. of her own, Hazel’s only chance of being normal lies in trying to fake it.


Age Range: 8 - 12 years
Grade Level: 3 - 7
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Skyscape; Reprint edition (October 1, 2004)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0761451870
ISBN-13: 978-0761451877

And fake it, she does. It’s 1944, and the world is at war. Her father, a brilliant physicist, has already disappeared to the New Mexican desert to work on a top-secret project. Hazel and her mother follow, to a strange town without a name that everyone calls “the Hill.” The Hill is surrounded by a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. Armed guards patrol its perimeter night and day. And no one gets in or out without a pass.

But bizarre as it is, the Hill offers Hazel the perfect chance to be the “normal” kid she has always dreamed of being. Hiding who she really is becomes Hazel’s first secret. Secrets seem to multiply in this strange place, and before long Hazel is hiding more than she can keep track of.

She’s not the only one with something to hide. What is the top-secret project her father works on night and day? Why won’t her mother leave the house? And what has a dead cat got to do with it all?

A powerful, fictional account of the development of the atomic bomb, this novel offers young readers no simple answers to questions about morality and the ultimate weapon. It does, however, give them food for thought, as well as an intriguing story populated by a cast of some of the most important characters of the twentieth century. 


"This suspenseful story successfully captures the tensions of a volatile period in American history as the atomic bomb was being developed. Readers will be left with plenty to think about and no simple answers."—School LIbrary Journal

"As Hazel makes a friend, discovers a secret, and grapples with her own fiery intelligence, a portion of American history that wasn't so very long ago takes on shape and reality."—Booklist

Awards and Lists

  • New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
  • Notable Social Studies Trade Book (NCSS)
  • Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Books
  • Cooperative Children's Book Center Choice
  • IRA/CBC Children's Award Notable Book for Fiction/Intermediate
  • Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, Nominee
  • Great Stone Face Book Award, Nominee
  • Mark Twain Award, Nominee