One-Minute Book Reviews

July 2, 2010

Dana Reinhardt’s Young Adult Novel, ‘The Things a Brother Knows’ – Mature Subjects, Third-Grade Reading Level

Filed under: Children's Books,Young Adult — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:53 pm
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A 17-year-old wonders why his older brother acts strangely after serving with the Marines in a combat zone

The Things a Brother Knows. By Dana Reinhardt. Wendy Lamb/Random House Children’s Books, 256 pp., $16.99. Publisher’s suggested ages: 14 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Not long ago, the Canadian novelist Joan Clark argued that North American publishers should drop the “young adult” label and replace it, as their British counterparts have, with two new categories: “under 12” (to be shelved in the children’s section of bookstores) and “over 12” (to shelved in the adult section). Clark makes a strong case that the confusing YA classification can keep both adults and children away from books they might like.

You could hardly find a better example of the problems with the genre than The Things a Brother Knows. This novel deals with a complex topic: A 17-year-old named Levi struggles to make sense of the troubling behavior a brother who, after serving with the Marines, shows PTSD-like symptoms that threaten to estrange the siblings. Dana Reinhardt gives this subject a relatively mature treatment that involves jokes about porn and masturbation, occasional strong language, and serious moral and psychological questions: What do we owe veterans? What price do families pay for their members’ military service? And is it OK to do bad things such as hacking into a brother’s computer because you want to help him?

For all this, Reinhardt writes at a third-grade reading level, according the Flesch-Kincaid readability statistics that come with the Microsoft Word spell-checker. And her earnest prose, if smooth as the surface of an iPod, is too dumbed-down for many of the age-14-and-up readers to whom its publisher recommends it, who may have read the stylistically more challenging Harry Potter and J.R.R. Tolkien tales years ago. The book might have more appeal for 11- and 12-year-olds, but its drab cover won’t help its cause with preteens who have sped through adventure stories like those in Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series.

Like no small number of young adult novels, The Things a Brother Knows makes you wonder: Who is this book for? Reinhardt says in a letter to readers that Levi, on his quest to understand his brother, “goes in a boy and comes out a man.” If that’s true of her main character, it’s not true her novel as a whole, which is suspended between boyhood and manhood, a case of arrested literary development.

Best line: “We’d been to Israel twice already, in the psychotic heat of summer.”

Worst line: No. 1: “He doesn’t leave his fucking room, Mr. Hopper.” No. 2: “I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in the world uglier than the sight of your own father’s pubic hair.” No. 3: “I meant that ‘little private Levi time’ thing as a euphemism. Masturbating. Get it?”

Published: September 2010

Editor: Wendy Lamb, who edited the 2010 Newbery Medal winner, Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me.

Caveat lector: This book was based on an advance reader’s copy. Some material in the finished book, including the cover, may differ.

Furthermore: Jacqueline Woodson’s Peace, Locomotion also deals with the effect on a family of a son who returns from a war with symptoms resembling those of PTSD.

You may also want to read: Joan Clark’s essay on the problems with the young-adult label.

You can also follow Jan Harayda on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 11, 2009

What Are You Doing at 11 a.m. on 11/11? Veterans Day Quote of the Day

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:36 am
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Did you know …?

“At 11:00 AM on Veterans Day, Americans stop what they are doing for two minutes. They pay their respects to wartime and peacetime heroes. This is a Veterans Day tradition.”

– From Arlene Worsley’s children’s book Veterans Day: American Holidays (Weigl, 2007)

July 5, 2008

The D-Day Messages Heard by American, British and Other Troops Going Ashore in Normandy – A Brief Excerpt From ‘The Longest Day’

Filed under: Classics,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:24 pm
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I wanted to post this excerpt from The Longest Day on June 6 but couldn’t put my hands on the book in time. Cornelius Ryan’s great account of the Normandy invasion fits the spirit of the Fourth of July weekend, too:

This passage describes the day of the invasion and typifies the you-are-there narrative style that has helped to make this book a classic:

“Never had there been a dawn like this. In the murky, gray light, in majestic, fearful grandeur, the great Allied fleet lay off Normandy’s five invasion beaches. The sea teemed with ships. …

“On the transports men jammed the rails, waiting their turn to climb down slippery ladders or scramble-nets into the heaving, spray-washed beaching craft. And through it all, over the ships’ public-address systems came a steady flow of messages and exhortations: ‘Fight to get your troops ashore, fight to save your ships, and if you’ve got any strength left, fight to save yourselves.’ … ‘Get in there, Fourth Division, and give ’em hell!’ … ‘Don’t forget, the Big Red One is leading the way.’ … ‘U.S. Rangers, man your stations’ … ‘Remember Dunkirk! Remember Coventry! God bless you all’ …’Nous mourrons sur le sable de notre France chérie, mais nous ne retournerons pas [We shall die on the sands of our dear France but we shall not turn back].’ … ‘This is it, men, pick it up and put it on, you’ve only got a one-way ticket and this is the end of the line. Twenty-nine, let’s go!’ And the two messages that most men still remember: ‘Away all boats,’ and ‘Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name …'”

From The Longest Day: June 6, 1944 (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone, 1994), first published in 1959. The ellipses at the end of the first paragraph show where I omitted some text from the book. The ellipses in the second paragraph do not represented omitted text – they appear in the book. You can read a longer excerpt from another section of the book here www.simonsays.com/content/book.cfm?tab=25&pid=404556&agid=2.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 4, 2008

A Fitting Salute to Veterans and Current Members of the Military

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:10 pm
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Have all the veterans on parade today made you want to know more about members of the military and their families? Pick up Jim Sheeler’s Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives (Penguin, $25.95) www.jimsheeler.com, a moving portrait of a Marine casualty notification officer and the bereaved families he tried to comfort. Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning series for the Rocky Mountain News, this is journalism at its finest, enriched by wonderful photos by Todd Heisler and others. A review of Final Salute appeared on this site on June 20, 2008 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/06/20/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 20, 2008

A ‘Casualty Notification Officer’ Brings News No One Wants to Hear

Great photos by the Pulitzer Prize–winning Todd Heisler and others enhance a poignant story of how Americans learn that their relatives have died in Iraq

“The Commandant of the Marine Corps has entrusted me to express his deep regret that your (relationship), John, (died/was killed in action) in (place of incident) (city/state or country) on (date). (State the circumstances.) The Commandant extends his deepest sympathy to you and your family in your loss.”
The Marine Corps’s suggested script for casualty notification officers, which they may modify, as quoted in Final Salute

Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives. By Jim Sheeler. Penguin, 280 pp., $25.95.

By Janice Harayda

It seems heartless today that the military once announced combat deaths in telegrams or brief sympathy letters that left relatives alone in their sorrow. Near the end of the Vietnam War, the government changed its policy and began sending two-person teams of uniformed officers to deliver the news instead. And Jim Sheeler shows how harrowing that job can be in this wonderful book about one such officer, Major Steve Beck of the Marine Corps, that grew out of a Pulitzer Prize–winning series with the same title for the Rocky Mountain News.

Sheeler doesn’t say so, but newspapers have reported that the notification policy changed partly because as Western Union offices became fewer, the military started asking taxi drivers to deliver the telegrams. Many of those cabbies — quite understandably — refused the work.

In Final Salute, Sheeler shows why anyone might decline the job now done by servicemen and -women known as “casualty assistance calls officers” or “casualty notification officers.” The military sends teams not just for emotional support but for the protection of the messengers: At the beginning of the war in Iraq, a furious mother slapped a Marine from Beck’s unit.

But the emotional hazards of casualty notification clearly outweigh the physical dangers. Officers do not generally call ahead to announce their visits. But families know instantly why they have arrived. “You can almost see the blood run out of their body and their heart hit the floor,” Beck said.

Sheeler couldn’t go with Beck when he knocked or rang doorbells. But he got as close as any reporter may ever have and followed up with the families. He also interviewed a former Marine who painted the names of the fallen on gravestones and went to a wake on an Indian reservation for the first Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe member killed in Iraq. Some of his most poignant stories involve a fatherless preteen son, who told him, “I get mad when kids tell me the wrong things like, ‘Your daddy died for no reason.’”

Writing in a calm tone and plain language somewhat reminiscent of that of All Quiet on the Western Front, Sheeler never overdramatizes or sentimentalizes his material. He also breaks up long stories into well-crafted shorter segments. This helps to keep his book from becoming almost too painful to read, but at times works against the narrative flow. Sheeler tells us on page 23 that a mother who had two sons at war screamed, “Which one was it?” when she realized that one had died. When he continues her story on page 114, he says she screamed, “Which one is it?” You don’t know if he gives two versions of the question because he had conflicting sources, because he massaged one of the quotes, or because the woman said first one thing, then another.

The story told in this book is so memorable that – with one exception – its lapses hardly matter. Final Salute benefits greatly from the photographs of Todd Heisler, who won his own Pulitzer, for feature photography, for the pictures in the “Final Salute” series in the Rocky Mountain News. Sheeler thanks Heisler in his acknowledgments. But neither he nor the jacket-copy writer mentions Heisler’s Pulitzer. How Sheeler and his publisher could have treated so much of their material so sensitively – and this aspect of it so insensitively – is a mystery.

Best line: Beck’s comment: “You can almost see the blood run out of their body and their heart hit the floor.”

Worst Line: The failure of Sheeler and his publisher to note that Heisler en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Todd_Heisler won a Pulitzer for his photos for the “Final Salute” series www.pulitzer.org/year/2006/feature-photography/works/, some of which appear in this book, including the elegant image on the cover. This is a disservice to Heisler, to readers and to others, including booksellers, who could have used the information in hand-selling the book. Sheeler is a great writer, but the importance of photographers to a story like the one told in the Rocky Mountain News series — without which this book would not exist — cannot be overstated. It is not simply that photographers can raise a story to a higher power artistically or help to persuade reluctant sources to cooperate. Outstanding pictures, such as those Heisler and others took, can help to “sell” editors on a story — to persuade them give it the play it deserves — and to persuade readers to read it. Just below the headline of this review appears a line that shows how easily Penguin could have mentioned Heisler’s Pulitzer, without doing an injustice to the other photographers, in one sentence on the dust jacket. Heisler was also part of a team that won the 2003 Pulitzer for breaking news photography. He is now a staff photographer for the New York Times.

Published: May 2008 www.jimsheeler.com and us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9781594201653,00.html.

Furthermore: Sheeler is now a a scholar-in-residence at the University of Colorado.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing her reviews.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

June 19, 2008

How Do You Tell Someone That a Relative Has Died in Iraq? A Review of ‘Final Salute’ – Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:13 pm
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How do U.S. military officers tell people that their relatives have died in Iraq? A review of Jim Sheeler’s Final Salute will appear tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews. Sheeler www.jimsheeler.com won a Pulitzer Prize for some of the reporting in this book about a Marine Corps “casualty notification officer” and the families who received the news of a relative’s death from him.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 25, 2008

Were They Really ‘The Greatest Generation’? Quote of the Day / Max Hastings

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:45 pm
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Former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw has called those who lived during World War II “the greatest generation.” Is this phrase accurate? Max Hastings, the journalist and former editor of The Daily Telegraph, says in his latest work of military history, Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944–45 (Knopf, $35) www.aaknopf.com:

“The phrase ‘the greatest generation’ is sometimes used in the U.S. to describe those who lived through those times. This seems inapt. The people of World War II may have adopted different fashions and danced to different music from us, but human behavior, aspirations and fears do not alter much. It is more appropriate to call them, without jealousy, ‘the generation to which the greatest things happened.’”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 12, 2007

A Children’s Book That Honors Veterans — A Quick Reminder

Looking for a picture book that honors that honors the men and women of the military, both veterans and those now serving in the armed forces? Check out Chris L. Demarest’s Alpha Bravo Charlie: The Military Alphabet (McElderry, $16.96) www.simonsayskids.com. This vibrant picture book introduces children ages 4 and up to the International Communications Alphabet (ICA) used in the U.S. military and in civil aviation worldwide. It also gives an excellent overview of the many kinds of jobs performed by men and women of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. To read the full review of the book that appeared on this site on August 10, 2007, click on this link www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/10/. Alpha Bravo Charlie would be a terrific holiday gift for a young child or grandchild of a veteran or current member of the military.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 11, 2007

A Prayer Said by an Army Chaplain to Soldiers Leaving on a Fateful Mission in Iraq — Veterans’ Day Quote of the Day (Ramon Pena via Martha Raddatz in ‘The Long Road Home’)

On the day known as “Black Sunday,” Iraqi militants ambushed an American platoon escorting an Iraqi sewage truck in the Sadr City section of Baghdad. Convoys sent to rescue the stranded soldiers repeatedly came under attack, and the firefight left eight Americans dead and more than 60 wounded.

Martha Raddatz, an ABC News correspondent, tells the poignant story of that disastrous 2004 battle and its effect on the soldiers’ kin in her recent The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family (Putnam, $24.95). In the opening scene Captain Ramon Pena, an Army chaplain, looks at the body of a 24-year-old soldier who died in the battle, his face covered by his T-shirt and camouflage top, and remembers the prayer he recited to the members of a rescue convoy an hour before:

“Lord, protect us. Give us the angels you have promised and bring peace to these soldiers as they go out. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

Comment by Janice Harayda:

Many of the most moving scenes in military history or fiction involve the words said to soldiers who may soon die in battle. Some of the finest of these include King Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”) and Cornelius Ryan’s account in The Longest Day of the invasion of Normandy, when loudspeakers on British ships broadcast over and over to men going ashore: “Remember Dunkirk! Remember Coventry! God bless you all.” What other messages deserve to be included in this category?

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 17, 2007

Walter Dean Myers’s ‘Patrol': An Anti-War Book for Children Ages 8 and Up

A young American solider loses his illusions after he sees the people his sergeant defines as the “enemy” — an old woman and babies “crying on the mud roads”

My public library has been using Walter Dean Myers’s Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam (HarperCollins, 32 pages, $16.89, ages 8 and up) in a summer reading program, and I picked it up thinking I might review it along with last week’s Alpha Bravo Charlie. But it deserves a post of its own, and not just because it reflects a collaboration between the much-admired Myers and Caldecott Honor artist Ann Grifalconi. Patrol might look like a book for preschoolers, albeit with an unusual theme: a soldier’s frightening first patrol in Vietnam. But it’s an anti-war story for older children. Nobody dies or gets hurt when a young radio operator and his squad take cover during a firefight. But the soldier loses his illusions about war after facing unsettling events, such as having to “secure” a village. He sees the people his sergeant defines as “the enemy”: “A brown woman with rivers of age etched deeply into her face. / An old man, his eyes heavy with memory. / And babies. Babies. / Little enemies crying on the mud roads.” In other words, Patrol is for children who can handle irony and emotionally difficult material, but some of them may feel too old for a 32-page picture book. So it might best used as an aid to a structured discussion in a classroom, youth group or pacifist family with 8-to-12-year-olds. Patrol may deal with Vietnam. But if the U.S. leaves Iraq, adults may wonder how to explain that move to children, and Myers and Grifalconi have given them some help.

Links: www.walterdeanmyers.net and www.harpercollinschildrens.com

Furthermore: Patrol won a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award from the Jane Addams Peace Association. He lives in New Jersey.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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