Hailed as a hero, twenty-year-old Jake returns to his pro-military hometown and family injured physically and emotionally, unsure if he can return to active duty but uncomfortable with the alternative.
Todd Strasser has written many critically acclaimed novels for adults, teenagers, and children, including the award-winning Can&;t Get There from Here, Give a Boy a Gun, Boot Camp, If I Grow Up, Famous, and How I Created My Perfect Prom Date, which became the Fox feature film Drive Me Crazy. Todd lives in a suburb of New York and speaks frequently at schools. Visit him at ToddStrasser.com.
*Starred Review* Wounded in action and a near shoo-in for a prestigious Silver Star, Jake comes home from combat a hero, though silently questioning the purpose and legitimacy of a senseless war that has horribly maimed one of his friends and killed others. But what else is he to do? He comes from a military family; his father is a lieutenant colonel, and his grandfather a retired major general. And once he has received physical therapy, he will be sent back to the combat zone to complete his tour of duty. To refuse the medal and further duty while making public his reservations would be ruinous, reflecting dishonor on his family and making himself a pariah. Will Jake have the courage to take a stand? What price is he willing to pay for honor? Though principally concerned with considerations of ethics and morality, Strasser doesn't stint on vivid and visceral action as he offers flashbacks of Jake's combat experience. The drama inherent in the young man's crisis of conscience and his agonizing thoughts over appearing in an anti-war video are immediate and engaging. Strasser turns in another smoothly written, powerful novel as he engages a topic that is especially timely as more than 240,000 American soldiers are currently involved in some 172 foreign countries. The discussion this thought-provoking book will surely engender is both welcome and imperative. Grades 7-10. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.
Wounded in combat, Pfc. Jake Liddell returns home a hero; he has one week to decide what to do next. Jake's grandfather's a general and Vietnam War hero, his father a lieutenant colonel; Jake enlisted out of high school. After rehab, he's expected to return to war (set in an unnamed, generic Middle Eastern setting). Jake's family couldn't be prouder of him, but he's haunted by memories of taking lives and watching lives being taken by an enemy that includes malnourished children and the desperately poor, their country wasted by decades of war. An attractive female school newspaper reporter wants him to publicly decry how recruiters manipulate teens—especially minorities and the poor—into enlisting, portraying war as a glamorous video game, but he'd be invalidating his family and their choices. In terms of gender, the novel feels as if it's set during World War II: Thousands of American women serve overseas in combat and support roles, yet the novel's soldiers are exclusively male. Under fire, the soldiers wonder if their girls, safe back home and seemingly not pursuing careers or independent modern lives, are faithful to them. They regret killing armed children and civilians but never the need to wage this war at this time. Taut, compact, and suspenseful, the novel raises important questions about war but disappointingly punts on the bigger issues. (Fiction. 12-17) Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Price of Duty
You are trained to be a soldier, not a hero. But sometimes the other thing happens.
BOOM! CRAUNK! Both sounds are unbelievably, painfully loud. Loud beyond imagining. Like your head being smashed between metal garbage can lids. So loud you can&;t believe you&;ll still have eardrums afterward. If you have time to believe anything. But you don&;t. There&;s no time.
A moment ago you were riding down a road in a Humvee. Now the vehicle&;s lying on its roof forty feet off the road and you&;re the only one left inside. Heavy munitions fire, screams, shouts, and explosions join the loud ringing in your ears. Metallic plangs ricocheting off the Humvee. Thudding pocks when rounds slam into the bulletproof windows. Inside the vehicle, you&;re hanging upside down, restrained by your seat harness. Half a dozen burning points of pain are distributed around your body. Vision is a reddish blur. An IED headache has your brain in a death grip. Something warm is running up your cheek and into your right eye. It&;s bright red.
Someone nearby is screaming, &;I&;m hit! I&;m hit!&; Someone farther away is shouting, &;Where&;s the triggerman? Find the triggerman!&;
Bratta! Bratta! Bratta! Plang! Pock! Zang! Multiple weapons fire. It dawns on you that there is no one triggerman. There are dozens.
Boom! The Humvee is rocked by the blast of an RPG.
&;Ahhh! Ahhhh!&; More screams of pain.
Where are my buddies?
* * *
My eyepro&;s gone. There&;s nothing to protect my eyes from flying shrapnel and dirt. The reddish blur in my vision is blood. It&;s coming from a piece of shrapnel lodged painfully under my chin cup. How it got there, I&;ll never know. It&;s one of a dozen pieces of shrapnel that the Army docs will eventually remove from my body.
But right now most of those shrapnel are just vague burning points of pain. Right now it&;s all adrenaline, shock, shouts, and explosions. I&;m upside down. Rollover training kicks in. Orient, establish three points of contact, brace, and release the seat harness. Egress. My gloved hand jerks the door handle, but the door won&;t open. Wait, my head is closer to the ground than my feet are. In this position, you don&;t push the door handle down. You pull it up.
An instant later I roll out into the heat, sunlight, and mayhem. Intense machine gun and small arms fire bashing my eardrums. Supersonic lead bees whizzing past. But the firefight is good news. Someone on our side must be shooting back. The hot air stinks of gasoline and sulfur. A fusillade of bullets rips into the ground, spraying grains of dirt into my face and mixing with the blood in my eyes. I&;m in the kill zone, in what must be far ambush conditions. How do I know it&;s not near ambush? Simple. If it was a near ambush, I&;d be worm dirt by now.
More metallic bees whiz by. The closest ones cutting through the air inches from my head. I get prone, jam some QuikClot under my chin cup. Damn, that hurts, but it stops the bleeding. Blink the remaining blood out of my eyes and try to establish where the enemy fire is coming from. Glance around for cover. Where are my guys? Skitballs, Magnet, Clay? Remind myself that I&;m in a mined area. I can&;t stay exposed like this for long without getting hit. But where will the land mines be if I move?
These thoughts race through my head in a matter of milliseconds.
&;Ahhhh! Ahhhh! I&;m hit! Jake! I&;m hit!&; It&;s Skitballs. He&;s somewhere to my right, where a lot of enemy fire is coming from.