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Contentious, unsuccessful, and undeniably devastating, the decades-long Vietnam War continues to haunt the countries involved—and their literature—today. In her upcoming novel, Everything Else in the Universe, Tracy Holczer explores wounds seen and unseen as Lucy, 12, grapples with the return of her father from a yearlong stint in Vietnam. Introduce tweens and early teens to more from this tumultuous time period with these titles, as well as the various perspectives they offer: teen soldier, sibling, refugee, and more.
All the Broken Pieces. By Ann Burg. 2009. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545080927). Gr. 6–10.
Airlifted from Vietnam at the end of the war and adopted by a loving American family, Matt Pin, 12, is haunted by what he left behind. In rapid free verse, the first-person narrative gradually reveals Matt’s memories: mines, flames, the death of a little brother. A stirring portrayal of therapy, survivor guilt, and much more, this debut will have readers drawing connections between past and present, friends and enemies.
Inside Out and Back Again. By Thanhha Lai. 2011. Harper, $15.99 (9780061962783). Gr. 4–8.
After her father goes missing in action during the Vietnam War, 10-year-old Hà, her mother, and her three older brothers trek from their home in Saigon to Alabama. But as Hà adjusts to her new life, she finds both refuge and cruel rejection. Based on Lai’s personal experience and written in accessible, short free-verse poems, this first novel captures a young refugee’s struggle with rare honesty.
Okay for Now. By Gary D. Schmidt. 2011. Clarion, $16.99 (9780547152608). Gr. 6–9.
Eighth grade is off to a rocky start for Doug Swieteck. He’s got a hard-drinking dad, his brother has been blamed for a series of local break-ins, and another brother has recently returned from Vietnam without his legs. Delivered in a wholly believable voice, Doug’s distinctive narrative, peppered with “stats” about his life, reveals hard, sometimes-shocking truths about the time period. A stealthily powerful, unexpectedly affirming story of discovering and rescuing one’s best self.
Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam. By Walter Dean Myers. Illus. by Ann Grifalconi. 2002. Harper, $16.99 (9780060283636). Gr. 4–8.
At 17, Myers was a soldier in Vietnam. Now, in this poetic picture book for middle-grade readers, Myers assumes the voice of one young soldier in combat. While the words explore tactile sensations—the crush of the soldier’s combat boots, the sweat on his back—Grifalconi’s illustrations blend collaged photos with watercolors. Ultimately, Myers’ message is in the lack of drama: there’s no heroism here, just weariness and waiting for the war to be over.
Shooting the Moon. By Frances O’Roark Dowell. 2008. Atheneum, $16.99 (9781416926900). Gr. 4–8.
Jamie’s brother TJ is going to war in Vietnam; if Jamie wasn’t 12, she’d follow him. But then TJ, a photographer, begins sending her rolls of film to develop—and each one unveils the horrors of what he’s seen. Through lovingly drawn, complex characters and explicit details about photography, Dowell introduces a war that will seem familiar to contemporary readers in spite of the historical setting.
Summer’s End. By Audrey Couloumbis. 2005. Putnam, o.p. Gr. 7–10.
When Grace’s brother burns his draft card at a local sit-in, her father, a Korean War veteran, turns him out of the house. Grace, on the other hand, escapes to her grandmother’s farm, where her boisterous extended family welcomes her with open arms. While Couloumbis sifts through complex emotions with incisive clarity, Grace’s questions about Vietnam may help readers articulate their own concerns about war, patriotism, and personal morality.
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