Grenade

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Grenade Book Poster Image
Tense, gripping WWII drama has powerful cost-of-war message.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Information about World War II and the Pacific theater. Pearl Harbor. Map of Okinawa. History of Okinawa and relationship to Japan. Japan invaded and conquered Okinawa in 1609. Battleship Yamato. Okinawan spiritual principal of mabui. Near destruction of Okinawan Shuri Castle, royal palace of Ryukyu Kingdom. Some Japanese words. Surrender of Nazis in Europe. Suicide of Hitler. U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dies from stroke, succeeded by Harry Truman.

Positive Messages

Soldiers on both sides are human beings, with families, sweethearts, and normal lives back home. They're capable of empathy and kindness but become monsters when they feel threatened and afraid. People can try to hold onto their humanity even in dire circumstances. Bravery doesn't mean not being scared; it means overcoming your fear to do what you need to.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ray collects photographs from the bodies he comes across, both American and Japanese. Hideki does same, memorializing those who died on both sides and helping to preserve their spirits. Hideki overcomes his fears when trying to save his sister and a group of Okinawan children. In the midst of war, Hideki muses on what causes the killing and atrocities, and he cultivates the ability to see people beyond their affiliation with the two warring factions. Some soldiers move beyond their roles to help or heal others.

Violence

Lots of casualties, some shockingly unexpected. Both protagonists kill. Characters get killed by sniper fire, grenades, flame throwers, shot at point-blank range. Some who die are civilians, some children, some soldiers in their teens. Group of civilians commit suicide by jumping off cliff when trying to escape soldiers. Soldiers commit suicide to avoid capture or gunfire. One character's hit by bullets, "his body dancing like a broken puppet." Flashback to American soldier's father attacking him with knife because he has PTSD from WWI.

Sex
Language

The American soldiers call Japanese people "Japs." The book gives the reader a heads up that it "contains terminology that was used in World War II," and in an afterword, Gratz says, "calling someone a 'Jap' is offensive and disrespectful. I used this word in my book for historical accuracy, but it's a word you should never use."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Hideki finds cigarettes in a fallen soldier's backpack and gives them to other soldiers.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Grenade is by best-selling author Alan Gratz (Refugee), who excels at writing harrowing, page-turning historical fiction for kids. It's set in World War II during the American invasion of Okinawa, a months-long battle. The book's message is strongly anti-war, with a plea for finding the humanity in others. Gratz doesn't s

hy away from depicting the bloody realities of war. There's much loss of life, and readers may be surprised and upset when numerous characters they've grown close to die unexpectedly. Hideki, the Okinawan protagonist, loses multiple family members. American soldiers call Japanese soldiers "Japs," though Gratz makes clear in his author's note that "calling someone a 'Jap' is offensive and disrespectful. I used this word in my book for historical accuracy, but it's a word you should never use." The publisher recommends the book for 9-12, but it's best for kids ready to consider the horrors of war.

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What's the story?

GRENADE opens on the eve of young Hideki's graduation on Okinawa, just as the Americans launch their invasion. As his school's destroyed by a bomb from a battleship, the boys are enlisted in the Japanese army and each given two grenades. Ray, a young American private on the battleship, is storming the beach. When he and his fellow Marines land, they set out to take the island, encountering civilian Okinawans and Japanese soldiers. Both Hideki and Ray witness bloody battles and deaths. What will Hideki do with his two grenades? Will he and Ray stay alive? Will the Americans take the island? What will happen to the civilian Okinawans fleeing their homes? And can the young soldiers hold on to their humanity in the midst of all the killing?

Is it any good?

This expertly crafted, well-researched novel mines a historical battle for its page-turning drama while shining a light the human cost of war and examining how war erodes our humanity. In Grenade, author Alan Gratz spotlights soldiers and civilians from all sides of the battle -- Americans, Japanese, and Okinawans enlisted to fight for the Japanese but caught in the middle. For half the novel, Gratz alternates chapters, switching between two very young soldiers, one Okinawan and one American. Both are sensitive, tenderhearted boys who struggle with the killing they see around them and are called to do.

In this book, there are no good guys and bad guys. Rather than glorifying war, it demonstrates concretely how war turns humans into soldiers who do monstrous things. "They became monsters when they were afraid. It didn't excuse it, but it explained it." He also weaves in respectful details about the traditional spiritual beliefs and practices of the Okinawan people, taking the story beyond the battlefield and adding to the power of this sensitive, emotionally resonant book.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the deaths in Grenade. Do they seem different from ones in video game battles? Were you surprised by any? Why do you think the author included some of the specific casualties he did? Do they make the book and message more powerful?

  • Could you follow the back-and-forth focus between the two main characters, Hideki and Ray? Why do you think the author wrote about characters from all sides of the battle?

  • What do you know about World War II? What did you know about the war in Europe? In the Pacific? Did you learn anything new from this book?

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