A Boy at War : A Novel of Pearl Harbor
by Harry Mazer
Mazer's (The Last Mission) taut adventure adopts the perspective of a 14-year-old newly arrived in Hawaii to capture the chaos surrounding the unexpected attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Adam is fishing near Pearl Harbor when the bombs are dropped. "That sounds so real," he says to himself at the first explosions, not yet believing the planes and noise are not part of a war exercise or maybe a movie. Taken for a navy man, he is thrown into the attempts to save lives. As the attack continues, the resulting confusion is reflected in staccato and impressionistic language: "The water around the once-proud battleship was thick with oil, and it stunk. Smoke and filth. Life rafts, pieces of boats, and men floundered in the watery debris.... A foot, an arm. He saw everything through a red haze. He ran. He slipped in blood." As the turmoil subsides, the effect on Adam of a "whole life lived in that one day" is immediate and profound. A day earlier he was struggling to measure himself against his navy lieutenant father, only to lose his father in the sunken USS Arizona and become a man himself. Mazer successfully fuses a strong portrayal of Adam's transformation with both a vivid account of the attack and subtle suggestions of the complexities of Japanese-American relations as played out in particular lives. Expert work. Ages 10-14.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Booklist, April 1, 2001, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.:
Gr. 7-9. This is one of those stories that divides cleanly into before, during, and after. Adam lives with his military family in Honolulu and tries to make friends with the civilian kids at his high school. Tension builds over his father's implied order that Adam must not have friends whose parents are Japanese, and Adam's growing camaraderie with Davi Mori. Adam, Davi, and their Hawaiian compatriot, Martin, are fishing in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese planes begin to fire. The scenes that follow are not for the faint hearted: Adam's father's ship is bombed and sinking, Martin is wounded, and Davi is struck down by an American sailor. Then, Adam boards the West Virginia during a bloody battle. The chaos subsides, but the bitterness of prejudice and the numbness following his father's death remain with Adam. Written in the third person, a refreshing change of pace in historical fiction today, this economical story will grab readers from the beginning and draw them into Adam's point of view. Reader's ready identification with Adam, son of an authoritarian father and new boy at school, makes his electrifying experiences during the attack all the more riveting. With clearly drawn, sympathetic characters and a gripping story, this memorable novel lends itself to booktalks.
¾: Carolyn Phelan.: