In small-town Georgia in 1944, 15-year-old Caleb is surrounded by war.
His older brother, Randall, is serving in a black Army unit overseas, and a German prisoner-of-war camp just opened outside town. Caleb's mother wants him to be baptized in a faith he's not sure he believes in, and his overbearing father fights him over every aspect of his life. But worse than all that is the constant battle African-Americans have, in the segregated South, to be seen and treated as fully human. Caleb defies his father and gets a job washing dishes in a whites-only restaurant, where he is horrified to find a German soldier working beside him. The other restaurant workers, both black and white, are equally horrified, but Andreas, the German, seems to want to be Caleb's friend. Dudley's characterizations are sure and complex. His use of dialect, initially a bit jarring, eventually adds depth to the richly evoked setting. Only an improbable and unnecessary subplot involving faith healing distracts slightly from the story's momentum. The ending, in which a white character reveals the full nature of racism—that blacks might be considered friends but never, ever, equals—is startling, swift and sure, pointing to America's next great war, the battle over civil rights.
Provocative and interesting. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)