A teenage Marine endures the horrific brutalities of the Bataan Death March and a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines in this intense historical novel.
To escape the physical abuse of his alcoholic father, 15-year-old Henry Forrest, a white boy from Duluth, lies about his age to join the Marines but finds himself facing far worse than his own father’s cruelty when his unit is sent to the Philippines. A month after Pearl Harbor is attacked, the Japanese invade the islands and U.S. forces fight them on the Bataan Peninsula until forced to surrender. Among his fellow captives, Henry finds kindness, respect, even brotherhood. His squad sergeant serves as a father figure. The events depicted in the novel are factual, and Spradlin’s descriptions of the brutalities perpetrated against the POWs and the horrendous conditions of their prison camp are gut-wrenchingly vivid. His characterizations, however, lack nuance. The Japanese are one-dimensional villains: cruel, brutal, cowardly, and stupid. The Americans feel like stock characters from a John Wayne war film: fearlessly courageous, stoic in their suffering, nearly superhuman in their endurance, unfailingly caring for one another, and resolute in their faith that the U.S. will triumph.
A harrowing but not particularly substantive story of war and survival. (Historical fiction. 12-17)