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PATROL by Walter Dean Myers Kirkus Star


An American Soldier in Vietnam

by Walter Dean Myers & illustrated by Ann Grifalconi

Age Range: 8 - 12

Pub Date: May 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-06-028363-7
Publisher: HarperCollins

Myers returns to the setting of his award-winning Fallen Angels (1988) with a stunning, unsettling picture book that attempts to put the reader into the heart and mind of an American soldier in Vietnam. The stream-of-consciousness narration takes the reader along on one patrol, as the unnamed grunt picks his way through the landscape, exchanges fire with “the enemy,” “secures” a village with the aid of grenades, and is airlifted back to the base. The spare, poetic text is written in the present tense, lending immediacy, and is packed with sensory details: “I lift my rifle and begin to rub the palm of my hand slowly along / its wooden stock. / The weather is hot, but the sweat that runs down my back feels cold.” Although the reader is told he moves with his squad, the protagonist seems to exist in psychic isolation and overload as he continually grapples with his uncertain understanding of his place, both physical and moral, relative to his enemy: “Crouched against a tree older than my grandfather, / I imagine the enemy crouching against / a tree older than his grandfather.” Grifalconi’s (One of the Problems of Everett Anderson, not reviewed, etc.) collage illustrations are remarkable, and suitably disturbing. A jungle effect is created by overlapping photographs of trees with close-up details of leaves, marbled paper, and negative space—all of which virtually overwhelm the human figures. The effect is claustrophobic and highly disorienting, made all the more so when the reader notices that the foliage is largely North American: maples and spruce appear, frequently with jolly wildflowers in the foreground. The selection of fauna is likewise confused and confusing: on one page, a giant snake rests its coils in the branches of a spruce; on the next, a quail stands next to an egret. These surreal illustrations brilliantly extend the text’s central question: just who is the enemy—and why, when he and I are so alike?—in this, the “land of my enemy?” Not exactly a fun read, but highly effective and very important. (Picture book. 8-12)