Twelve-year-old Jamie is an army brat. Jamie's father, the Colonel, is a career military man, currently Chief of Staff at Fort Hood, Texas. He loves the Army:
(The Colonel) loved the starch and stiff uniforms and boots polished to a high shine. He was crazy about military parades, and had dragged me and TJ to parade grounds from Fort Benning to Fort Ord. I'd even seen him get teary-eyed when the troops passing in front of the inspection stand turned right-face to salute whatever bigwig officer was sitting in the catbird seat. It got to him every time.
"The Army way is the right way," he'd say, as to us whenever we piled into the blue Ford station wagon to start out for a new destination
Having grown up in this culture, Jamie and her older brother TJ, also love all things military. They answer the phone, "Colonel Dexter's quarters." They spend after school hours enacting fierce battles with their green plastic army men. Once, after a particularly fierce battle, TJ makes Jamie a medal of honor out of a silver gum wrapper.
When TJ enlists in the Army and is sent to Vietnam, Jamie is absolutely thrilled. She is confused by the Colonel's less than enthusiastic response to the fact that his only son has enlisted. Jamie can't wait to start getting letters about her brother's experiences. She is surprised, then, when he sends he canisters of film, which she learns to develop in the dark room at the rec center on base.
TJ's first pictures are fairly innocuous- pictures of soldiers, nurses, and dogs he has seen on base. The pictures become increasingly more graphic, however, and more troubling to Jamie, who finds herself struggling with conflicting feelings about the war and the people she loves most dearly…
I loved this book. I'd love to use it in a middle grade study of the Vietnam War or war in general. I'd love to use it to show kids how a writer embeds history into a work of fiction. I grew up in the sixties, during the height of the Vietnam War, and this book helped me understand this conflict in ways I never had before.
I also loved Dowell's development of characters, even some of the more minor characters in the book. My favorite might be Cindy Lorenzo, an "eleven-year-old girl with a first grade brain." The way Dowell uses details to reveal this character is simply amazing
A thoroughly satisfying read!