Electric Dreams

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Caroline Kettlewell skillfully weaves an intriguing story about how a diverse group of high school students and their mentors rally together to assemble an electric automobile from an old gasoline-powered Ford Escort rescued from a local junkyard. The venture occurred in 1995 when two regional utility companies in the southern United States established a competition among southern high schools to build an automobile powered by electrical energy. It was almost certain that one of the elite southern schools would win.

Through a set of unbelievable circumstances, information about the electric car contest was conveyed to Harold Miller, a veteran industrial arts instructor, and Eric Ryan, a new science teacher, both employed at Northampton High School, which was located in a poor community in rural northeastern North Carolina. Devoting their time on nights and weekends, Miller, Ryan, some other teachers and administrators, community volunteers, and a group of dedicated, enterprising students assembled “Shocker” from the 1985 Escort. In the final competition held at NASCAR’s Richmond International Speedway in Virginia, the Northampton high vehicle outperformed all other entries, winning the contest over much larger, wealthier schools.

Electric Dreams: One Unlikely Team of Kids and the Race to Build the Car of the Future is a captivating read, very hard to put down once started. Kettlewell does a marvelous job of developing real down-to-earth characters with whom most readers will quickly relate and rally around. In addition to being very entertaining, the book instructs the reader about the scientific principles associated with electrical cars and inspires perseverance and optimal performance using what is available.