Purple Daze is a young adult novel set in suburban Los Angeles in 1965. Six high school students share their experiences and feelings in interconnected free verse and traditional poems about war, feminism, riots, love, racism, rock 'n' roll, high school, and friendship. Although there have been verse novels published recently, none explore the changing and volatile 1960's in America-- a time when young people drove a cultural and political revolution. With themes like the costs and casualties of war, the consequences of sex, and the complex relationships between teens, their peers, and their parents, this story is still as relevant today as it was 45 years ago.
PURPLE DAZE is written in free verse, similar to many of the popular works by Ellen Hopkins, from six points of view. Ziggy, Mickey, Phil, Nancy, Cheryl, and Don.
Ziggy, who I kind of see as the glue that binds all of these characters to each other, is a thoughtful teen with good intentions, but, like most her age, has baggage. Self-conscious about her body. Guy trouble. Fights with her friends. And all with the sixties as a backdrop.
Two characters, Phil and Mickey, have been drafted to Vietnam and towards the end, despite the obvious danger both are in, have some funny letters back home about all the “p*ssy they’re getting.” Total guy stuff. Totally believable. But at the same time tragic. Phil, based on a friend of Shahan’s who served, writes, “Spent my 20th birthday in a bar listening to “I Got You Babe” with a Vietnamese accent.
I thought when it came to the sixties I knew quite a bit for someone born five years after they ended. Somehow, I missed the story of Norman Morrison in all the history classes I took, but Shahan gives a nod with these lines: “A devout Quaker and father of three young children pours kerosene over his head and sets himself on fire.”
Morrison was against the Vietnam War and he showed the world with this public display of protest. It’s shocking, revealing facts like Morrison’s story that makes this book so capturing. It transports the reader back to a time when it this country was close to coming apart at the seams.
Shahan’s writing is absolutely amazing. The messages she can convey, the images she can conjure in a few, short words is almost hard to fathom. There are lines of poetry that are just so good you have to stop and read over three and four times. One such example: “Don bums a smoke from a guy with a Pocahontas headband in a porta-potty line that snakes like psychedelic dominoes under a smoky green haze.” If that doesn’t say sixties, I’m not sure what does.
Great book. Highly recommend.