Posts Tagged ‘frances o’roark dowell’

Finally I made myself slip the first negative into the enlarger.  What emerged on the paper was a picture of a GI in a wheelchair, his right leg amputated at the knee and wrapped in a white bandage.  He looked so much like TJ, I gasped and took a step backward.  I had to force myself to look again and see for sure that it wasn’t my brother in the wheelchair, that it was someone I’d never seen before in my life.

I decided to print the rest of the pictures later.

(from Shooting the Moon, page 99)

Frances O’Roark Dowell’s Shooting the Moon is a Vietnam War novel with a focus on the homefront.  The daughter of an Army colonel, 12-year-old Jamie Dexter is enthusiastic and even excited about the war.  She and her older brother, TJ, played soldiers as little kids and moved around a lot for their father’s military career.  When TJ turns 18 and decides to become an Army medic instead of going to college, Jamie supports his decision and even insists she would go to Vietnam herself if she could.  And she just doesn’t understand why the colonel doesn’t want him to go.

TJ sends “boring” letters to his parents, but he sends Jamie undeveloped rolls of film with instructions for her to develop the film and send him the contact sheets.  The Dexters are stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, and Jamie’s job in the rec center gives her access to a dark room.  With the help of Sgt. Byrd, a Vietnam vet, Jamie develops TJ’s film and learns that she is good at making his pictures come to life.

TJ has long had an interest in taking pictures of the moon, and he continues this in Vietnam.  But he also takes pictures of wounded soldiers, and it’s these pictures that cause Jamie to think differently about the war.  When her good friend and gin rummy partner, Private Hollister, tells her that he may be shipped off to fight, Jamie feels helpless.

Shooting the Moon is a short, middle-grade novel that focuses on Jamie’s evolution from a little girl with lofty ideas about war, having been taught all her life that serving in the military is a duty and an honor, to a girl whose eyes have been opened.  To Jamie, war initially seemed like an adventure.

“You should go, TJ.”  I leaned over and grabbed his wrist, like I’d pull him all the way over there myself if I had to.  “I’d go to Vietnam in a minute if they let me.  Besides, you don’t know when we’ll get another war.”

“Oh, honey,” my mother said.  “You don’t know anything about war.  You’re just a little girl.”

“I’m starting eighth grade in September, which is hardly a little girl, and I read Time magazine,” I argued.  “I know plenty about war.”

“That’s enough, Jamie,” the Colonel said.  But I thought deep down he had to be proud of me, and of TJ, too.  He’d raised us, after all.  He’d raised us to believe in the Army way.  And as far as I was concerned, he’d raised us right.”  (page 21)

Through TJ’s pictures, Jamie learns that war isn’t glamorous or fun.  The wounded and suffering men in TJ’s photos were someone’s son, brother, husband, or father, and they may or may not be coming home.  It wasn’t a game.  Dowell softens the blow by teaching this lesson through Jamie and photos that are far removed from the action, but even though the story lacks the immediacy you’d expect in a story about war, it still packs a punch.

I started reading Shooting the Moon with The Girl (age 10), but she grew bored after a few chapters and decided she wanted to read something else.  The Girl knew from the publisher’s summary that Jamie would receive important rolls of film from her brother, and she felt it took too long to get to the point of the story.  She was more interested in what was in the photos than in Jamie learning how to develop them.

However, given that our country remains at war, Shooting the Moon has an important message for young readers whose ideas and beliefs about war often are very different from the reality.  The characters are not as well developed and the ending not as fleshed out as they would be in a longer novel, but Shooting the Moon provides much food for thought, especially with regard to Jamie’s relationship with the colonel.  Dowell’s novel is about more than war; it’s about love, family, and growing up.  And the message remains relevant today.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Shooting the Moon as a gift from a friend. (Thanks, Kerry!) I am an Amazon associate.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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