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.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Couloumbis, Audrey & Akila. War Games. Random House Children’s Books, 2009. 229 pages with Author’s Note. ISBN 13: 978-0-375-98302-5. This book is intended for grades 4 and up, or ages 9 and up, depending on reading level. (3 stars out of 4)

The older I get, the more I am convinced that all history is tainted. We all know that history is written by its winners, and I remember many instances in which I was taught clearly questionable history, such as the relationship between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans; the unfair treatment of all women, African-Americans, Jewish-Americans, and other oppressed groups; and the deity of Oprah Winfrey. However, Truth is not at stake here, and Audrey & Akila Couloumbis’s new novel War Games is not a good or bad novel because its truthiness is in question. As a memoir, this work is one historical perspective almost in isolation: the Nazi occupation of Greece and its effects on one Greek village. In the end, history becomes perspective, and its integrity rests with the people recording it. War Games is a poignant presentation of one village’s struggles with impending occupation. It is an effective portrait of the unfair forces that sometimes cause children to become adults before their time.

Petros may only be 12, but he is a responsible young man who speaks both English and Greek because his family once lived in America. Changing everyone’s lives, news comes that the German occupation is near, so to decrease their chances of being singled out by the Nazis, all traces of America must be purged from the family’s lives. When Petros complains to his mother that he wants to keep some unread books, she responds with a steely disposition: “‘I feel the same way about my Life magazines, but I burn them all the more quickly’” (48). When cousin Lambros goes off to fight and legends begin to sprout about his exploits, Petros and his older brother Zola want to join the resistance. It all seems like an intricate and adventurous game to the boys; the danger seems far away as long as the Nazis are not in their town. However, war zones change, and plans change with them; what once seemed like juvenile games can transform almost instantly into harsh and brutal reality with dangerous consequences for patriotic risk-takers.

War Games by Audrey & Akila Couloumbis is a fine memoir, and it will appeal to many fans of novels like The Boy Who Dared and The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg who like a little adventure and a little humor in their historical fiction. A little slow in the beginning, it builds into small but satisfying climaxes, like serialized installments of an action hero story or chapters of a Hardy Boys classic. However, I am not sure it is an effective novel. The portraits of home life and the boys’ small adventures are important to the overall theme, that outside forces sometimes end innocence prematurely. But the authors do not always provide enough visual detail of the characters, their village, or their enemies for me to become attached to them. I have trouble distinguishing the characters because I cannot see them; I have trouble following action around the setting because I do not adequately see it in my mind. I do not know what effect more imagery would have on War Games, but I would have liked to know. I will still recommend this book to students interested in war fiction, because they may not miss the sensory language as much as I do.

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