Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Myers, Walter Dean. Sunrise over Fallujah (3 1/2 out of 4 stars)--
I remember when movies about the Vietnam War first appeared. It was the late 1970s, and movies like Platoon, Apocalypse Now, and Full Metal Jacket tried to make sense of a war that, as controversial and painful as it was, had finally ended. With time and perspective, we as a nation have come to terms with the Vietnam War. Walter Dean Myers, in his new novel Sunrise over Fallujah, attempts a more daunting task than that faced by Stone, Coppola, or Kubrick: write a story about the Iraqi War while we are still embroiled in it. As is usually the case with Mr. Myers, he does a masterful job, and his novel, set between February and June 2003, when we “won” the war, has as much tension and drama a middler can handle.
Although Robin Perry of Harlem, NY, is concerned about his father’s dissatisfaction over joining the armed forces during the beginning of the Iraqi War, Robin, who got the nickname “Birdy” from his army squad mates, is convinced he is doing the right thing, as he explains in a letter to his uncle Richie (the hero of Myers’ 1988 Fallen Angels): “I felt like crap after 9-11 and I wanted to do something, to stand up for my country. I think if Dad had been my age, he would have done the same thing” (2). Birdy is stationed in Iraq with the Civil Affairs corps, the organization that is supposed to assist with establishing goodwill and helping to rebuild Iraq. He must learn to get along with his new people in a strange and dangerous place, and he learns to rely on Jonesy, a blues-loving Southerner; and Marla, a big, tough ‘n tender woman who rides shotgun on their humvee, Miss Molly. Birdy finds out very quickly that fighting in Iraq takes a toll on more than just a soldier’s body. When an Iraqi teenager is shot for running away from soldiers, Birdy feels the agony of the moment: “The building across the street, the soldiers moving cautiously past them, were unreal through my tears. It was a horror movie badly out of focus, with only the images in my head crystal clear” (57). When Birdy encounters his first IED (improvised explosive device), set off by a cell phone, the randomness of the violence he has encountered makes him question everything he believes in. When Marla ask him if he’s OK, he is not sure anymore: “‘Not really,’” I answered. “‘I don’t know if there’s going to be an okay anymore’” (136). Regardless of their feelings and the violence that consistently visits them, Birdy’s squad must continue trying to help the people of Iraq while trying to discern who is friendly and who is the enemy, a daunting and deadly task.
Walter Dean Myers has written about war before, and it shows. One of New Jersey’s most prominent authors, Myers knows how to weave a tale that is both exciting and moving, and Sunrise over Fallujah is both. As Birdy’s squad members learn to be a family, they also learn to live with loss and pain as they struggle to move forward in an oppressive situation. Myers does not mind sharing the soldiers’ doubt about the war’s motivations and the spin machines built to support them. There is also a powerful tone of dramatic irony to the story as the characters discuss and deal with public perceptions of the war, that it would be easy, that we would be in and out, that we would just shock and awe them and be home in six months, that it would be just like 1991. Five years later, we know how sadly untrue those perceptions were, but the characters do not; this disconnect between expectations and reality drives the conflict home very effectively. Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers is a fine addition to all middle (and high school) shelves; despite a bit of foul language, the action is not inappropriate for young people who can handle a little blood and gore and who appreciate an almost Stephen Crane-like, naturalistic examination of the beginning of the Iraqi War. The ending is foreshadowed throughout the entire novel, but although it is predictable, it is not necessarily ineffective. Like in Fallen Angels, the characters must deal with the effects of war whether they expect them or not.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home