It feels like my whole life’s about to change. Moving into junior high is like stepping out of childhood, whether you want to or not. And I keep worrying about how much longer my brother will be around, and maybe my father, too, and wondering why they can’t see eye to eye about anything this summer.
(from War & Watermelon, pages 28-29)
Rich Wallace remembers what it’s like to be young and straddling the line between childhood and adolescence. In War & Watermelon, Wallace tells the story of Brody Winslow, a 12-year-old boy getting ready to start 7th grade in a new school. Besides the usual worries about fitting in with the school crowd, Brody is preoccupied with making the football team and trying to figure out girls. But it’s the summer of 1969, and Brody has other, more important things on his mind, namely the prospect of his brother, Ryan, being sent to Vietnam.
War & Watermelon is intended for middle grade readers ages 10 and up, so I read this book with my 10-year-old daughter. She and I discussed the book together a lot over the past week or so, but she is too busy with her art and summer reading to write a review. She told me I could let you all know her thoughts, and since we pretty much felt the same way about this book, it should be fairly easy.
Wallace’s writing is solid. His use of the first person viewpoint is perfect for this story because readers get to know Brody’s fear and anxiety about all the changes going on in his life. The book starts off with a bang; Ryan convinces his parents to allow him to drive from their home in New Jersey to upstate New York for a major concert. Readers get to see Woodstock through Brody’s eyes, which proved to be a bit much for The Girl. While there isn’t anything graphic, parents should be aware that there are some swears, drug use (not by Brody), and topless women in this book. These made The Girl a bit uncomfortable, and not just because she was reading with her mother; she doesn’t like to read that kind of stuff on her own either and thinks words like “idiot” and “jerk” are inappropriate. Even so, the Woodstock scenes were exciting, but they comprised just a chapter or two of the book. They also give parents and children something to discuss while reading.
From there, Brody’s days are spent thinking about and playing football, listening to his brother and father argue, going to the swim club with his friend, Tony, watching the Mets as they begin to actually win games, and trying to figure out whether Janet and Patty like Tony and him. Wallace’s target audience is young boys, especially with all the talk about girls and detailed descriptions of football plays, and even though The Girl and I were able to appreciate these things despite not being able to relate, each chapter started feeling like the one before, making for some slow reading.
However, where War & Watermelon really shines is in its focus on the Vietnam War. Brody’s brother, Ryan, is soon to be 18, and he’s in limbo. He doesn’t know what to do with his life and doesn’t want to be forced into making a decision. His father doesn’t want to lose his son, so he wants Ryan to apply for college and avoid the draft. Ryan wants to go to college on his own terms, yet at the same time, he doesn’t want to fight what he believes is an immoral war. The Girl wanted me to include her favorite passage from the book, which highlights the tensions in the Winslow home.
I can hear them glaring at each other. “You don’t get it,” Ryan says for about the hundredth time this summer.
“Listen,” Dad says. “What I get is that it’s very easy to think big when you’re seventeen and you imagine that your future is unlimited. But you’re in total denial, Ryan. September ninth is four days away. The government has a nice birthday present waiting for you. It’s called a draft card.”
“You think I don’t know that?”
“There’s been no evidence that you do.”
“I’m not buying into their fascist system, Dad.” (page 140)
Wallace does a great job showing the tough decisions young men had to make about their future during the war and how these decisions affected their families. There’s a tenderness in the scenes with Brody and Ryan, with Brody saying more than once that Ryan has been there for him, and now it’s time for him to be there for Ryan. Brody has a good head on his shoulders, and he felt real to us as he agonized over his fumbles on the football field, the life-or-death decision his brother had to make, and his inability to understand girls.
War & Watermelon is a good book to introduce young readers to the Vietnam War and the protest movement from the eyes of someone their own age, someone who is going through the same awkwardness and confusion in transitioning to junior high. The Girl thinks it would make a good summer reading selection, especially for readers who like football.
Courtesy of the publisher, I have a copy of War & Watermelon to offer my readers. To enter, leave a comment with your e-mail address and let me know what makes you want to read this book. Because the publisher is shipping the book, this giveaway is open to readers with addresses in the U.S. and Canada only. You have until 11:59 pm EST on Sunday, July 10, 2011, to enter.
**Please note that this giveaway has ended**
© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.