Growing pains and music in the shadow of the Vietnam War.
Ronnie and his older brother had a plan: graduate from high school and become DJs. But the Vietnam War got in the way, and now Ronnie’s brother is dead, and Ronnie is left alone with his brother’s records, his grieving mother, and his Marine father. Then Hana—who is half Japanese and (presumably) half white and anti-war—moves to town, and Ronnie, his best friend, and another member of their school’s wrestling team (all of whom are white) strike up a friendship with her, meeting every week to listen to music. It’s over music—with songs from the ’60s mentioned over and over again—that they discuss race, poverty, and draft dodging. Rufus (Die Young With Me, 2016) sets out to tackle the topics of racism and intolerance in small-town Florida as Ronnie observes the (on-the-page) slurs and violence that Hana experiences daily. While she is outspoken, Hana and her trauma ultimately fade into the background in favor of Ronnie’s narrative. Some language which could be dismissed as relics of the time would nevertheless have benefited from interrogation in the text. Nevertheless, the claustrophobia of a small school with only the draft waiting at the end of the tunnel is keenly felt. Occasionally heavy-handed, this is a novel about grand ideals and hard lessons.
Teenage righteousness with a heavy dose of nostalgia. (Historical fiction. 14-18)