Excellent Novel of Vietnam
Taylor Sorenson is a typical rebellious teen of 1968, sneaking out of his posh apartment to hang out with friends in the Village and generally irritating his mother. When she decides to go visit his father, who works with the government and is stationed in South Vietnam where he has a major but undisclosed role in the war operations, he isn't pleased that he has to be away from his friends, but decides to make the most of his travels by sneaking away from the embassy to go to a Tet (New Year's) celebration at Bunny Bunny Go Go. Unfortunately, he is intercepted by military police, who tell him the party goers would just rob him blind, so he's better off at home. Even more unfortunately, gunfire erupts, the MPs are killed, and Taylor is held hostage by the North Vietnamese Army. He makes friends with an older man named TJ, who helps him survive initially, but who doesn't last long. Taylor eventually ends up in the care of Phuong, Trang, and Vu, who brutally march him across the countryside. Luckily, both Phuong and Taylor speak French (not unlikely in the 1960s) and are able to communicate. Phuong is fairly nice, although Trang and Vu are not, and after Taylor saves Phuong from drowning, Phuong treats him a bit better, although she is very dedicated to the reunification of Vietnam. Even though it may have cost her her entire family, Phuong believes in this mission and wants to get Taylor to the Hanoi Hilton so his presence can be used as leverage against his father. Crossing a war-torn, defoliated country side is dangerous, and Taylor and Phuong barely survive by eating snakes and other creatures they can find, often becoming violently ill. As they approach their destination, will Taylor's father's connections be able to rescue Taylor before it's too late?
I appreciate it when these details are offset by discussion of deeper philosophical ones about how to treat others. WHile young readers might want lots of descriptions of fighting, it's also good for them to understand how devastating war can be for those who are involved in it. I especially appreciated the scene where Taylor saves Phuong because, in part, it's the right thing to do. It is pointed out, however, that part of his reasoning for saving her is that his other captors are meaner! This had a nice balance, and the structure of it will make it appeal to readers of outdoor survival adventures as well.
Since many middle grade readers today have grandparents who were involved in some aspect of the Vietnam conflict, this is a fantastic book to give those interested in this time period, and is paired well with the nonfiction accounts by Partridge (Boots on the Ground) or Freedman (Vietnam: A History of the War).