In this middle-grade novel, three kids go on a dangerous adventure when their father, a lieutenant colonel in the 4th Armored Division, deploys to West Germany in 1957.
Military insiders think of “brat” as a term of endearment. Seven-year-old Kirsten McMasters (aka Rabbit or “Wild Child”); her sister, Laura, nicknamed “Queenie”; and their secretly “wild” but publicly well-behaved brother, Jack, accept the “brat” label “with great pride.” So does debut author Lyons, who traveled the world as a so-called “Army brat,” and he draws on this life experience in a romp that’s spiced with risk and history lessons. Its tight, fast-paced plot will maintain readers’ interest, beginning with the McMasters children crossing the Atlantic on a troop ship, enjoying various escapades in off-limits areas while their seasick mom stays in bed. The dramatic tension this creates foreshadows dangers on the Army base in Baden-Württemberg; these include Jack’s violent classmate, Ryan Kerrigan, and his pack of bullies, who are mysteriously intent on keeping other kids out of the nearby woods. The author creates believable characters, including Jack, a reluctant hero who’s bad at sports; with some help from friends and a kind Little League coach, his own math skills, and inspiration from Spartan military culture, Jack becomes a “warrior” on the baseball diamond and beyond. Kirsten is oblivious to surrounding perils, while the older McMasters kids tensely sort out puzzles, such as why American soldiers are needed in Germany if the Nazis lost the war; where their father’s tank command goes; who the “Commies” are; and why their mom hides fully packed suitcases in her closet. Jack and Queenie are particularly perplexed when their German nanny, who supposedly speaks little English, accidentally reveals her fluency in the language and warns them not to tell their parents. Throughout, Lyons’ simple yet direct writing style features engaging, realistic dialogue even when characters are explaining complicated topics, such as sonar tracking.
A lively yet serious read that both teens and younger children will enjoy.