Ben Bright’s senior year seems a prelude to a gloriously successful life, with college, loving girlfriend and an acting career spread out in front of him.
Except for his plan to join the army first. Stubbornly committed to being the patriot he thinks ethics demand, Ben can’t explain it to anyone—especially not Ariela, the girl he plans to marry when he returns. As Ben departs for basic training and then serves in Iraq, Ariela heads to college, and best friend Niko, along with Mr. and Mrs. Bright and autistic younger brother Chris hold to normality. When the inevitable call comes, informing them that Ben is injured, no one knows exactly what to do or how to help. With the effective use of italics to indicate Ben’s thoughts, the contrast between what the outer world sees and how he processes it is clear. Progress happens, but it’s slow, and the toll on all is plain. Chris’ reactions are particularly unblunted. In a spare 148 pages, the complexity of the aftereffects of modern war is laid bare. The tight focus on one soldier does not oversimplify but rather captures the human drama in the personal: The Brights’ marriage is more than challenged, Ariela is pulled away by her college friends and Chris’ restricted, defined universe has to expand to encompass Ben’s new condition. The book's power is in the honesty and hope conveyed.
As illuminating as a hand grenade, and just as powerful. (Fiction. 12 & up)