My rating: 5 of 5 stars ★★★★★
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Richard Perry joins the Army during the chaos of the Vietnam war after his plans for college fall through. He leaves behind his gentle younger brother and alcoholic single mother in Harlem, NY. Upon arriving in Vietnam, Richie’s not sure what to expect. Soon, he sees the war up close for himself. The blood, brutality, panic, and terror. He forms deep friendships with the men he fights beside and has good reason to wonder if he’ll ever make it back to Harlem alive.
I have an extremely difficult time writing books review for books I love. I feel like anything I might say about the book would be trite; that I couldn’t possibly explain my thoughts well enough to convince people of just how special a particular book is.
And this book is no exception.
I finished this book last night and this is still how I feel:
The story starts out quickly. We’re thrown into the action with Richie as he arrives in Vietnam. He’s getting to know the men he’s going to fight beside, getting used to Army life, and thinking often about his brother and mother back home.
This book isn’t technically written in journal form, but it could be. It’s the most successful first person narrative I have ever seen. That is a huge statement, and I stand behind it. We hear all of Richie’s thoughts, but never once does the story drag and never once are we pushed out of the action by long-winded backstory. I’m not 100% sure how Myers does this, only that it’s seamless.
I can also legitimately tell you that I wasn’t sure how this book would end. It’s told from Richie’s first-person perspective, but I honestly didn’t know if he would live through the war. And even by telling you this, I’m not giving you a spoiler for if he makes it or not.
There were Vietnamese soldiers around, too. They were smaller than I thought they would be. I tried not to stare at them. A rumbling noise off to my left sounded like distant thunder. We knew it was artillery. My stomach felt queasy. Guys started looking at the ground. This was Nam.
There is a ferocious, desperately sad honesty to this book. Richie isn’t quite sure why he’s fighting, just that now that he’s in there, he must keep fighting to protect himself and his friends.
I wouldn’t say I’m a quick crier. It takes a lot for me to cry while reading, but this book had me lip-quivering blubbering at least three times. And then on the next page, I would laugh out loud. I felt Richie’s emotions through everything. His fear, his dependence on the men around him, and his deepening love for them.
Like I said earlier, I have a hard time writing reviews for books I love. You won’t find dragons or swoon-worthy love or whatever else we sometimes enjoy in books here. But you will find the honest extremes of human action and emotion.
That’s the best word I can possibly think of for this book: HONEST.