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by Sarah Bird

Pub Date: June 27th, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-41214-X
Publisher: Knopf

A military brat recalls the summer she finally made the break from Mom, Dad, and the Brass—in a fifth appearance for the author of The Mommy Club (1991), etc.

It’s the 1960s, students are protesting the war in Vietnam, and Bernie Root is wearing dirty jeans with peace-sign patches when she disembarks at the Air Force base on Okinawa after her freshman year in college. But Bernie’s no rebel. She loves her family, especially Moe, her mother, and is disturbed by the condition of their new quarters (an uncharacteristic mess) and by the frosty relations between her parents. Mace, her father, is bitter because he hasn’t been promoted and, even more importantly, isn’t flying anymore. Moe seems to be living on tranquilizers. Younger sister Kit, the family beauty, is running wild. Her three brothers’ room looks like a hobo camp. Youngest sister Bosco has anxiety attacks. Everything went wrong, Bernie thinks, after the family suddenly was ordered to leave Yokota Air Base in Japan, then forbidden any contact with their much-loved maid Fumiko. Now, when Bernie’s surprising win in a dance contest takes her on a tour of Japanese military bases with has-been comedian Bobby Moses, she conveniently gets the chance to Understand Everything. At Yokota, where her father was a hero for flying dangerous spy missions, Bernie meets with Fumiko, whose story of postwar hardships, a liaison with an American officer (Mace’s commander), and the death of her baby daughter makes all clear. Bernie at last feels free of her responsibilities to the family and ready to make a life in the US, away from the military and its far-reaching influence.

Bernie is an original with her own voice, a believably awkward mix of sassy attitude and breathless insights, but she marches too much in lockstep with her creator’s overly schematic plotting. Like everyone else, she’s under orders.