A Girl's Guide to Missiles
A poignant, surreal, and fearlessly honest look at growing up on one of the most secretive weapons installations on earth, by a young woman who came of age with missilesThe China Lake missile range is located in a huge stretch of the Mojave Desert, about the size of the state of Delaware. It was created during the Second World War, and has always been shrouded in secrecy. But people who make missiles and other weapons are regular working people, with domestic routines and everyday dilemmas, and four of them were Karen Piper's parents, her sister, and--when she needed summer jobs--herself. Her dad designed the Sidewinder, which was ultimately used catastrophically in Vietnam. When her mom got tired of being a stay-at-home mom, she went to work on the Tomahawk. Once, when a missile nose needed to be taken offsite for final testing, her mother loaded it into the trunk of the family car, and set off down a Los Angeles freeway. Traffic was heavy, and so she stopped off at the mall, leaving the missile in the parking lot.Piper sketches in the belief systems--from Amway's get-rich schemes to propaganda in The Rocketeer to evangelism, along with fears of a Lemurian takeover and Charles Manson--that governed their lives. Her memoir is also a search for the truth of the past and what really brought her parents to China Lake with two young daughters, a story that reaches back to her father's World War II flights with contraband across Europe. Finally, it recounts the crossroads moment in a young woman's life when she finally found a way out of a culture of secrets and fear, and out of the desert.

A Girl's Guide to Missiles Details

TitleA Girl's Guide to Missiles
Author
ReleaseAug 14th, 2018
PublisherViking
ISBN-139780399564543
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir, Biography Memoir, Biography

A Girl's Guide to Missiles Review

  • Rebecca
    January 1, 1970
    I received a free copy of this e-book from the publisher (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review. 2.5 StarsI wanted this book as soon as I saw the title. If I ever wrote a book about my passion for Cape Canaveral, I would have used that title. By the end of the book, I felt the title was used because it sounds good, not because it accuratly reflects what happens in the book.I am fascinated by the history of missile test sites, especially the oldest ones which emerged in the 40's and 50' I received a free copy of this e-book from the publisher (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review. 2.5 StarsI wanted this book as soon as I saw the title. If I ever wrote a book about my passion for Cape Canaveral, I would have used that title. By the end of the book, I felt the title was used because it sounds good, not because it accuratly reflects what happens in the book.I am fascinated by the history of missile test sites, especially the oldest ones which emerged in the 40's and 50's. I knew of China Lake's test area, but I hadn't dug too much into it's history (I prefer the air breathing missiles and ICBMs). This book seemed like the perfect introduction. While both the author and her parents worked at China Lake in various capacities, it felt like very little of the book was about what went on there. The book is more the story of the author's life, including various boyfriends, her brief job in the payroll department, going to college, getting married and her father's descent into Alzheimer's. I'm sorry, I got this book to hear about life in China Lake, not about trying to sell Amway. At one point, she mentions the abandoned Lark missile ramp. Lark missiles were also tested at Cape Canaveral - but there was no ramp involved. I want to know more! But alas, the author has moved on to something else. I suppose this book would be good if you liked memoirs of non-celebreties. It was definitly not what I hoped it would be.
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  • Matt Hiebert
    January 1, 1970
    No, this is not a textbook about military ordinance. For me, A Girl's Guide to Missiles is a story about “emergence.” It is the memoir of a woman coming of age in the 80s, rising out of a barren culture of inflexible religion within the desert setting of China Lake, one of America's foremost weapons development facilities.The story begins with Piper as a child, relocating from the Pacific Northwest to the hardscrabble of a southern California military base. She is close to her mother. Her sister No, this is not a textbook about military ordinance. For me, A Girl's Guide to Missiles is a story about “emergence.” It is the memoir of a woman coming of age in the 80s, rising out of a barren culture of inflexible religion within the desert setting of China Lake, one of America's foremost weapons development facilities.The story begins with Piper as a child, relocating from the Pacific Northwest to the hardscrabble of a southern California military base. She is close to her mother. Her sister is a beloved rival. Her father is a shy, born-again Christian, who only wants to do right by his family.Through the first act of the story, we see Piper moving through the world of Christian indoctrination and growing up within the weapons industry that employs both her parents. We watch her rigid religious education, the misogynistic office politics her mother must endure, and her father's bewilderment with coworkers, supervisors and his renegade daughter.We glimpse the mishaps of missile testing, but also are allowed to feel the values of a sincere, patriotic family who prays for war because it's good for business.Along the way, however, something misfires, and it is Piper, herself, who becomes the errant missile. As she enters adulthood – and the world of higher education -- the young woman who cried with joy when Reagan was elected President, is exposed to new philosophies, new people and the possibility of love. She moves to Eugene, Oregon to enter the postgraduate world of academia and......You're welcome to find out the rest for yourself.Piper's ability to move through the timeline of her life while maintaining narrative consistency, even as her values and perspective change radically through the years, made a Girl's Guide a wonderful read for me. It helps that I grew up during these decades. There were many times I remembered where I was standing during Piper's own milestones. She is someone I might have know back in the day.The memoir is more than a personal/political coming of age story. It is a well-researched, engaging tale that lets us not only see, but understand, why Piper's hyper-conservative upbringing was the only origin story possible for the woman who would eventually emerge from that arid California desert and its culture of dogma and war.
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  • Liz
    January 1, 1970
    Perhaps 4 stars worth of enjoyment, but only 3 based on comprehensive, coherent delving into specific topics. I always enjoy memoir non-fiction, as a personal perspective provides "story" in addition to information. I liked the behind-the-scenes look at weapons development from the late Viet Nam War era onwards, and would have liked even more detail than we got. Not sure how much that limitation was due to the classified nature of some of the missile programs being discussed, or just in the inte Perhaps 4 stars worth of enjoyment, but only 3 based on comprehensive, coherent delving into specific topics. I always enjoy memoir non-fiction, as a personal perspective provides "story" in addition to information. I liked the behind-the-scenes look at weapons development from the late Viet Nam War era onwards, and would have liked even more detail than we got. Not sure how much that limitation was due to the classified nature of some of the missile programs being discussed, or just in the interest of brevity/focusing on other topics.
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  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    My feelings about this book seem to echo most of the reviews that have already been written for Goodreads. This is a fine coming of age memoir about a woman who happened to grow up in China Lake, but it is not a book about China Lake. What she shared about "America's Secret Desert" was interesting, as was her fundamentalist Christian schooling (horrifying is probably a better descriptor than interesting in this instance), but overall the book fell a bit flat for me.I received an ARC from NetGall My feelings about this book seem to echo most of the reviews that have already been written for Goodreads. This is a fine coming of age memoir about a woman who happened to grow up in China Lake, but it is not a book about China Lake. What she shared about "America's Secret Desert" was interesting, as was her fundamentalist Christian schooling (horrifying is probably a better descriptor than interesting in this instance), but overall the book fell a bit flat for me.I received an ARC from NetGalley. The book will be released on August 14, 2018.
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  • Janice
    January 1, 1970
    I enjoyed this ARC. I wish the author had gone into a bit more detail on life at China Lake. As soon as she became a teenager there was far too much about her various relationships with men. None of which were interesting. I would also have liked to learn more about her academic career. For the most part, her parents were to me, by far the most interesting characters in this memoir. A lot less of Karen and a lot more of her parents please. This is a pleasant book, don't look for anything profoun I enjoyed this ARC. I wish the author had gone into a bit more detail on life at China Lake. As soon as she became a teenager there was far too much about her various relationships with men. None of which were interesting. I would also have liked to learn more about her academic career. For the most part, her parents were to me, by far the most interesting characters in this memoir. A lot less of Karen and a lot more of her parents please. This is a pleasant book, don't look for anything profound in it. As such, it falls a bit short of the mark of really engaging the reader.
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  • Christen
    January 1, 1970
    I enjoyed this memoir. I thought it was an interesting juxtaposition of war and religion in the author's life. I related to her religious upbringing and enjoyed the history of weapons her family made and then living with the effects of making technology and then having no control over the use.Thanks to Edelweiss and Penguin Publishing Group for the digital ARC.
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  • Jodi
    January 1, 1970
    This was an advanced readers copy, that I recieved through the Goodreads Giveaways. I might not have bought this book, if I hadn't won it, but I would have missed out on a sometimes funny, sometimes sweet, and sometimes sad, description of growing up in a place where every life is spent building bombs to wipe out our enemies...from WWII to Korea to Vietnam to Afghanistan and beyond. Karen describes a childhood of secrets learned and kept; of the love (and barely disguised fury) between siblings, This was an advanced readers copy, that I recieved through the Goodreads Giveaways. I might not have bought this book, if I hadn't won it, but I would have missed out on a sometimes funny, sometimes sweet, and sometimes sad, description of growing up in a place where every life is spent building bombs to wipe out our enemies...from WWII to Korea to Vietnam to Afghanistan and beyond. Karen describes a childhood of secrets learned and kept; of the love (and barely disguised fury) between siblings, the parents who couldn't talk about their work, the life on a military base in the middle of the desert, church school education, and growing up and moving on - escaping the barren dessert for a life in the outside world. Her description of her father's descent into Alzheimers' darkness is particularly poignant during her ill-fated wedding, when he couldn't remember the phrase she had drilled into him for "giving the bride away". The marriage was doomed to fail, just like the Sidewinder missiles that were made and tested at China Lake, and the foreboding feeling , the sense of doom, that hovers over her story of the brief good times, followed by the bad times, with Keith, feel as immediate as if you are watching them implode in front of you. All in all, this is a hidden gem of a book, warm and relatable, yet, impossibly distant and foreign to non-military brats, and all the more fascinating because of that distance.
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  • Kathleen Gray
    January 1, 1970
    This is very much a coming of age memoir with some details about China Lake, not a memoir about China Lake. Karen Piper has an interesting background, with parents who worked in the missile business (for want of a better description) and who had a strong religious bent. Her experiences with evangelism and struggle to move beyond that belief system, as well as her various relationships, form the bulk of the story. Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC. This is a good read but not for the reasons I'd ho This is very much a coming of age memoir with some details about China Lake, not a memoir about China Lake. Karen Piper has an interesting background, with parents who worked in the missile business (for want of a better description) and who had a strong religious bent. Her experiences with evangelism and struggle to move beyond that belief system, as well as her various relationships, form the bulk of the story. Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC. This is a good read but not for the reasons I'd hoped.
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  • Aria
    January 1, 1970
    ---- Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. ---
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