American Ace

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
American Ace Book Poster Image
Moving, fast-paced novel-in-verse; great for teen boys.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

American Ace has some valuable insight into the life of WWII heroes and gives wonderful historical context through the eyes of a family member into the lives of those soldiers.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about the importance of family, acknowledging various forms of privilege, the importance of knowing your family history, and self-acceptance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Young narrator Conner and his father are bright examples of what it means to view race through a lens of curiosity with a willingness to learn. They're also a wonderful example of a father-son relationship. The true-life Tuskegee Airmen provide an example of heroism.

Violence

The violence of war is described, including shooting down planes, bombers, and the like. There's also discussion of violence against African-Americans in the United States. No blood is described. 

Sex

A woman reveals her son has a different father as a result of an affair when she was unmarried. A man mentions being "well-endowed." A teen has a girlfriend and describes kissing her.

Language

Use of the word "colored" in a derogatory way. Racist taunts against African-Americans.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults are shown drinking wine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know American Ace by Newbery Honor author Marilyn Nelson (How I Discovered Poetry) is a novel-in-verse that focuses on the shocking news that the young narrator's father was the result of his mother's affair with a World War II pilot. Told through the voice of high school boy Conner in 45 poems, the story deals with heritage, racism, and aspects of the war. Parents should be ready to discuss the war as well as African-American civil rights history.

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What's the story?

Conner and his father are part of a large, loving, and loud Italian family. When Conner's grandmother dies, everyone's sad but none more so than his father, who lapses into a depression. Conner soon discovers his father was not the biological son of Conner's grandfather but rather the result of an affair his mother had with an American World War II pilot. With only a nickname, a pair of wings, and a class ring as clues, Conner sets out to help his father discover who he really is. Will they be able to handle the truth?

Is it any good?

This novel-in-verse is a moving, riveting, quickly paced story that envelops readers right from the start. Author Marilyn Nelson does a masterful job of making readers care about Conner and his family's journey while keeping them on their toes as Conner navigates through each discovery about his family's heritage. 

The joy of AMERICAN ACE is not only growing to love the family and admiring how Conner handles each new revelation; the reader also gains an appreciation for the World War II pilots Conner discovers. Poetry and history combine in unlikely and modern ways to create a unique and fulfilling story. Readers will fall in love with Conner's tight-knit family and be on the edges of their seats as the mystery unfolds.

My half brother, Carlo, Dad’s son with his ex,
who seldom visits, brought his wife and kids
to see their grandfather and cheer him up.
But nothing seemed to make much difference.
I googled depression. And I got scared.
A blue glacier was growing between us. 
The melt started on my sixteenth birthday.
(March 17: St. Pat’s. Mom’s family
says it means I’m 51 percent Irish.)
Dad said I should get my driver’s permit!
He promised me forty hours behind the wheel!
That was the best birthday present I ever got!

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about heritage and what it means to be "mixed race." Which heritage(s) does your family identify with?

  • Why is it important to embrace what's different about you?

  • Why does it trouble Conner that there's so much about his newfound culture he doesn't know?

Book details

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love stories about civil rights and World War II

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