A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a book about the realities of the Iraq war. It takes no political positions, and though the violence and swearing are considerably less than they might have been, given the subject, there is still a bit of swearing and some gruesome descriptions of violence -- heads exploding and pieces of flesh. Also, a female soldier is nearly raped.
What's the story?
Robin, a young man from Harlem (and nephew to Richie, the soldier from the author's Fallen Angels), enlists in the army after 9/11, much to his father's angry disapproval. He is sent to Iraq as part of a Civilian Affairs unit, which is supposed to follow the fighting troops and help win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. But in the confusion of this difficult situation, Robin finds himself in combat as often as in talks.
Is it any good?
So far there have been very few books for young adults about this ongoing conflict, but this is one that does the job admirably. Writing about the reality of a current conflict for children, or even young adults, is of necessity a balancing act -- how much to show, how far to go, in accurate depictions of horrific events. Veteran author Walter Dean Myers walks that fine line about as perfectly as it can be done. He doesn't pull his punches, but neither does he go overboard. He has just enough violence and swearing to keep it realistic without wallowing in them, and thereby gives about as accurate a picture of the fog of war in this particularly foggy war as one can give to children.
He does this, in part, by keeping some emotional distance between the readers and the characters. The book is moving, but the reader never gets to know the characters well enough to be truly shattered by the things that happen to them. Again, a balance -- there's just enough emotional involvement, but not too much. And he shows the boredom and the humor that are just as much a part of army life as violence and death, even in a war zone.
From the Book:
I didn't know if I had the same will to win as the guy from the 3rd. What I did know was that I wanted to do my part. The officers let us sit around and talk up the war and I thought that they did it on purpose. It was like being in a locker room before the big game.
"I seen a 240 take a guy's leg off from a hundred yards," a big-headed corporal said. "The whole leg came off and the sucker was just laying on the ground, looking at his leg as he died."
I felt a little sick.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the Iraq war and its coverage in the press. What are your opinions about it? Did this book change the way you think about it? After seeing coverage of the war in the media, did this book surprise you? Do you think the coverage has been accurate? If the book gives you one picture of the war, and the news another, how do you reconcile the two pictures?