B is for Battle Fatigue, by Mark Kurlansky (fiction) – Vietnam War battles come home

Little-boy games turn into young men’s worries.
How can war injure someone without leaving a scratch or bruise?
Can history be right and current events still be terribly wrong?

Joel’s childhood memories – playing soldiers with his pals, cheering for the Brooklyn Dodgers to finally win before they move to LA, those blue numbers tattooed on the bakery lady’s wrist – form the backdrop to his anguished dilemma as his draft number comes up in the early days of the Vietnam War.

How can he reconcile becoming a Conscientious Objector with the sacrifices that his father and uncle made in World War II? How can he live with himself if he goes to fight a war that he deeply believes is wrong?

Noted nonfiction author and researcher Mark Kurlansky takes readers on a young man’s emotional journey in a work of fiction that rings truer than many biographies.
Look for Battle Fatigue at your local library or independent bookseller to discover where Joel lands.

Book info: Battle Fatigue / Mark Kurlansky. Walker Books for Young Readers, 2011. [author’s website] [author interview video] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My Recommendation: Joel knows he’ll grow up and go to war to keep America free, like his dad and uncle did. But when a teen neighbor returns from Vietnam physically unharmed and mentally shattered, he begins to question whether every war is right.

Born on the 7th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, grandson of European refugees, Joel Bloom plays kids’ games with his pals and the souvenirs that their dads brought back from WWII. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, he and his junior high classmates practice diving under their desks for A-bomb drills (sometimes a chance to hold hands with sweet Kathy). He tries to teach a German exchange student how to act more American, but local memories of relatives lost in the Holocaust prove stronger than Karl’s willingness to be shunned. How odd that Karl’s only friend in Haley is the first Jew he’s ever met.

In November 1963, Joel turns to his diary as he tries to make sense of JFK’s assassination. High school means varsity baseball, a newfound love of chemistry, and afterschool fights that someone else starts; even his little brother gets challenged to fights because Joel never loses. Everything changes when President Johnson announces on TV that the USA is now fighting in Southeast Asia… and Joel realizes that he and his pals will fight and die in this war.

Dickie from next door enlists in the Marines and leaves for the war proud and tall, returning broken and haunted. College will keep Joel from being sent to Vietnam for four years… but will it be long enough? He doesn’t want to go – not because he’s afraid, but because it’s not right. Will he become a Conscientious Objector or enlist anyway or head to Canada? Big questions from a troubled time in our nation’s history and one young man’s attempt to answer them for himself. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com)

14 thoughts on “B is for Battle Fatigue, by Mark Kurlansky (fiction) – Vietnam War battles come home

    • Thelma – the books you highlighted would be great read-alongs for Battle Fatigue and other fiction on the Vietnam Era, helping readers see the many facets of response to this conflict. Thanks for adding them to our conversation about books!

  1. It’s always hard to find good quality YA books. Good stuff here. I just signed on to the A-Z challenge, nearly at the last minute, but I’m trying to visit every blog at least once.

  2. Nice write up about it. I’m not sure I’m sold on this one either, but it sounds good. I tend to get a bit uneasy when stories touch on such real subjects.

    • Rusty, you’ll find that lots of YA books tackle real-life issues, some very gritty indeed. Battle Fatigue really evokes the historical era that Joel grew up in and the soul-searching that he (and many others) went through as he considered this new kind of war.

  3. Nice write up about it. I’m not sure I’m sold on this one either, but it sounds good. I tend to get a bit uneasy when stories touch on such real subjects.

    • Jenn – this one is fiction, but very firmly grounded in real history and real societal attitudes of the times. You can almost read it as a biography of Everyman-the-conflicted, struggling to balance love of his country with rejection of its chosen war.

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