A novel offers a coming-of-age tale set in the Vietnam War era.
Forst (The Journey of Hannah Woods, 2013, etc.) in her latest effort presents Jake Edwards, a typical, middle-class kid but with a big problem: severe dyslexia. When he flunks summer school yet again, his parents give up and send him to live with his “hippie” Grandma Rose, who teaches at an alternative school (The Peaceable Institute) in upstate New York. Complicating the move is the fact that Grandma Rose and her son and daughter-in-law have a fraught relationship. Rose strongly opposes the Vietnam War. Jake’s parents, while not flag-wavers, support the conflict, particularly because Jake’s older brother, Aaron, who enlisted in the Army, works in Saigon as a radio operator. Jake’s family situation infuriates him. He looks up to his big brother, distrusts Grandma Rose, and hates being uprooted with no say in the matter. The Peaceable Institute gives Jake a different view of the war, a confusing and scary one. But can he protest the war without being disloyal to his brother? Events escalate. Jake is teargassed during a peaceful protest in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An investigative journalist exposes the My Lai Massacre in South Vietnam. The Kent State shootings in Ohio divide the nation. And Aaron disappears from his relatively safe haven in Saigon. Jake can be borderline annoying with his Sturm und Drang, but then the reader remembers that the character is not just a teenager, but a youth with problems that would challenge anyone. Forst tells a good yarn; the dialogue mostly rings true, and scenes like the protest in Cambridge give the narrative believable chaos. Rose remains a benevolent and wise soul without becoming a tie-dyed caricature. While the author clearly sides with the protesters, she never demonizes those who served. The timeline in the appendix is enlightening and helpful. The novel may be especially valuable for today’s teens, many of whom see the battles in Vietnam as ancient history.
An engaging and realistic story about Americans protesting the Vietnam conflict.