All things considered, Charlie had been having a pretty good summer.
He had a new friend in his refugee neighbor Pavel “Pav” Duda, a new man cave (actually an old shed), and a new way to get Erin F’s attention. But his life changes completely when Old Country tries to bomb Little Town to smithereens. It is tempting to overlay current political unrest onto this novel, but by naming the warring regions Little Town and Old Country, Conaghan creates a timeless allegory. The differences between the people of Little Town and Old Country are not disclosed, but Pav’s name, speech, and blue eyes are used to mark him as an “Old Country bastard.” Charlie and the other Little Town citizens speak a “lingo” characterized by idioms and colloquialisms that separates them both from our reality and from Old Country refugees like Pav, whose command of the grammar is shaky. This lingo, together with Charlie’s sense of humor, makes the tone deceptively light. The slow pace allows the tension to build imperceptibly, like a crane lifting an anvil over the heads of unsuspecting readers. Conaghan tackles the complexities of war, occupation, and totalitarianism in a direct and accessible way, portraying violence frankly but without sensationalism. Charlie’s understanding of what is taught about others versus what is actually the truth speaks volumes.
Charlie’s cleareyed account delivers a powerful anti-war statement without a hint of pedantry.(Fiction. 10-14)