When Joel declares himself a Conscientious Objector to the Vietnam War, he feels as though his whole life has been leading to this moment.
In this first-person narrative, Joel recounts the events in his childhood that influence his decision. He grows up surrounded by World War II veterans and plays war using their old uniforms. Most of the vets do not talk about their experiences, but it is clear that they are haunted by them—battle fatigue, they call it. This leaves Joel, and readers along with him, struggling to understand the necessity of war, especially when, in the end, we befriend our former enemies, as with the former Axis powers. His father says that the war might not have occurred if more Germans had opposed Hitler's policies. It is this point that Joel keeps coming back to when he realizes that Vietnam will be his battleground: Is he able to stand against policies he abhors, regardless of the consequences? Readers willing to stick with this leisurely recollection will find that the pace picks up when Joel receives his draft notice during one of the most tumultuous periods in the country's history; even families are divided on the issue, and the personal and societal pressures that Joel faces are tremendous.
Pair this penetrating examination of a teen's interior process with Walter Dean Myers' Fallen Angels (1988) for a discussion about teens and the Vietnam War. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)