Lately, more specialized young adult historical works, both fiction and nonfiction, focus on groups that are traditionally overlooked, but I’ve hoped to also see more general works that take a truly inclusive approach. I loved being a history major at a women’s college thanks to the inclusion of women’s contributions into every course. Refusing to teach “standard” (i.e., male) history with some “special” women’s classes on the side was quietly revolutionary.
Unfortunately, nonfiction history and historical fiction still tend to either focus entirely on diversity (the Civil Rights movement, Japanese-American internment camps) or on mainstream topics with no inclusion of historically accurate diversity, further reinforcing misconceptions about the past. How many books about the Titanic show readers that there were over 100 Syrian passengers; eight Chinese men; a black Haitian man, his white wife, and biracial daughters; and a biracial Englishman of Italian and Egyptian descent? Similar points could be made about other events.
So it was with tremendous pleasure that I received Boots on the Ground: America's War in Vietnam by Elizabeth Partridge (April 10) which integrates broad historical background with intimate profiles of diverse individuals. A biracial (Chinese/Italian) American nurse found her ethnicity made it easier for her to gain the trust of the Vietnamese orphans she volunteered with. A white Marine who grew up bullied and in foster care describes the horrors of being a POW and how his military experience fueled his desire to attend college. The Mexican-American son of migrant workers who was hit at school for speaking Spanish hoped to gain respect by fighting for the country where his family was denigrated. Together their voices provide a more engaging and informative glimpse into a complex time than a less inclusive work would.
This is the first book of its type to cross my path this year; I hope it won’t be the last. Laura Simeon is the young adult editor.