Wounded in combat, Pfc. Jake Liddell returns home a hero; he has one week to decide what to do next.
Jake’s grandfather’s a general and Vietnam War hero, his father a lieutenant colonel; Jake enlisted out of high school. After rehab, he’s expected to return to war (set in an unnamed, generic Middle Eastern setting). Jake’s family couldn’t be prouder of him, but he’s haunted by memories of taking lives and watching lives being taken by an enemy that includes malnourished children and the desperately poor, their country wasted by decades of war. An attractive female school newspaper reporter wants him to publicly decry how recruiters manipulate teens—especially minorities and the poor—into enlisting, portraying war as a glamorous video game, but he’d be invalidating his family and their choices. In terms of gender, the novel feels as if it’s set during World War II: Thousands of American women serve overseas in combat and support roles, yet the novel’s soldiers are exclusively male. Under fire, the soldiers wonder if their girls, safe back home and seemingly not pursuing careers or independent modern lives, are faithful to them. They regret killing armed children and civilians but never the need to wage this war at this time.
Taut, compact, and suspenseful, the novel raises important questions about war but disappointingly punts on the bigger issues. (Fiction. 12-17)