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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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 shy 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.
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 is 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 on 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 the 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 that they see around them and that they 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?
- Author: Alan Gratz
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Great Boy Role Models, History
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Scholastic Press
- Publication date: October 9, 2018
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 12
- Number of pages: 288
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.