In Skomal’s (Bluff, 2012, etc.) YA novel, a group of children in a small Midwestern town learns about the harsh realities of life after the Korean War.
The children of Sand Flats, Neb., may be off from school for the summer, but they’re definitely not on vacation. It’s 1954, and Hap, Patsy, Beah and Raz meet amid the fallout of the Korean War, which has ravaged their lives. Hap, who looks “like a wax museum statue of Peter Pan,” is as lost and motherless as the boy who wouldn’t grow up. He’s abused by his father and tries to build his own, better world. Hotheaded Patsy just moved to town (after being suspended from her last school for fighting) and must learn to deal with her brother’s serious injury, which he sustained during the war and has sent him to the VA hospital. She also must come to terms with her brother’s secrets, which threaten the family’s stability. Then there are Beah, who lives in the shadow of her deceased older brother, and Raz, who is Jewish and has an “innate beauty” that sets her apart from the others. This coming-of-age story follows the group’s members, who meet for the first time that fateful summer and contend with murder, lies from their parents, lies to their parents, missing limbs, homosexuality, theft and abuse. Together, they learn the importance of friendship, truth and honesty, and they also learn that life is rarely easy. It’s a dark story about a dark world, but Skomal makes the story readable and lovely via her prose. Sand Flats—a deep-rooted cattle-farming community 20 miles from Omaha that “came to life thanks to the Union Pacific Railroad’s western push to develop the rail clear to California in the late 1800s”—itself becomes a main character. By placing this group of children, their parents and other townspeople in this distinct geographic location, Skomal has created a world that couldn’t take place anywhere else.
A haunting reminder about the loss of innocence.