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A LONG WAY HOME by Nancy Price Graff


by Nancy Price Graff

Age Range: 10 - 13

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2001
ISBN: 0-618-12042-4
Publisher: Clarion

Although it is seven years since US troops left Vietnam, the people of Sharon, a small Vermont town, are still fighting the war, and newcomer Riley gets pulled into the conflict. Seventh-grader Riley and his widowed mother have moved from a Long Island suburb to live in the house she grew up in. Riley’s mother quickly renews her friendship with Sam, a carpenter who helps fix up their house. When Riley learns that Sam refused to fight when drafted and sent to Vietnam, the boy is disgusted: “He couldn’t imagine not doing what your country asked you to do.” While it is plausible that older townspeople disapprove of Sam, it is unclear why Riley, who grew up after the war had become unpopular and whose parents protested the war, is so blindly patriotic. Riley’s rejection of Sam is conveniently tested when he meets the town hero, Mr. St. Francis, who received a Purple Heart for courage in Vietnam, but now drinks too much and neglects his family, in sharp contrast to Sam’s industrious, kind behavior. In another plot device too convenient to be convincing, Riley sees Sam pull a woman out of a burning car, thus proving his courage. Riley’s self-righteous stance and his frequent grumbling, despite his mother’s financial problems and need for his help, make him hard to like. In her fiction debut, Graff (In the Hush of the Evening, o.p.) shows a facility for description and dialogue, but the plot contrivances and the heavy-handed theme hamper her ability to tell an effective story. (Fiction. 10-13)