An American teen witnesses the atrocities of the Vietnam War firsthand when he is captured and marched along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
When wealthy, presumably white, prep school student Taylor gets caught sneaking out at night, his mom responds by dragging him to Vietnam to spend time with his dad, a Special Attaché at the U.S. Embassy. And when he sneaks out to party again, this time in Saigon on the eve of Tet, he stumbles into a new reality: He is taken hostage, tortured, and forced on a brutal trek north. Watkins (Sink or Swim, 2017, etc.) doesn’t shy away from the grimness of war or the harshness of the landscape, though he successfully steers clear of the needlessly grotesque. Still, the impact is muted, perhaps due to a not-particularly-appealing protagonist and his rapid shifts in fortune. The relationship between Taylor and Phuong, Taylor’s North Vietnamese captor and trail guide, serves as the story’s heart. She humanizes the enemy and complicates Taylor’s understanding of the war, and it is a shame that her perspective is not centered in the novel, which is narrated in the first person by Taylor, whose growth at times feels a little too easy. Those interested in learning more will appreciate the author’s note and its references to primary sources.
This war story follows a well-trodden road, offering something for aficionados of the genre but breaking little new ground. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 12-17)