A poignant look into the heart of a soldier

SUnriseoverfallujahIn Sunrise Over Fallujah, Walter Dean Myers’s provides a thought-provoking fictionalized account of a young American soldier involved in the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Throughout the novel, Myers offers readers a window into the realities of what it takes to fight a war, and also the complexities of how to win peace in the modern world.

Myers’s protagonist Robin Perry, called Birdy by the members of the Civilian Affairs unit he fights along side, comments on everything he witnesses, from military food, the oppressive Iraqi heat, how the American Press reports the war, to the contribution women soldiers make to the effort. Through it all he speaks with acuity and honesty. Even as he repeats the US Military’s “official” line by putting the polemics and policies in the mouths of officers and politicians, the reader never feels burdened with Myers’s editorial. While the messages Birdy receives from Higher-Ups are often contradictory and confusing, Myers’s sticks to Birdy’s point of view, and thereby keeps the story emotionally and politically truthful, as well as relevant to young people struggling to understand war in general and the Iraqi war in particular.

Throughout it all, Birdy’s voice sounds genuinely like a young American from the inner city struggling to understand a complex reality.

Birdy, and the other soldiers Myers depicts are at once proud, confused, and scared, while also looking for ways to connect with the Iraqis and the women and children who suffer alongside them, and his dying and wounded comrades. That Myers manages to portray this complex situation without drowning the reader in grief or commentary, is commendable.

Grade 8 and up

Violence — VV – The discussions of wounds and the battle scenes are truthfully drawn but never gory or excessive.

Sex – S –there is some overt sexual discussion, and an attempted rape, but nothing is depicted in detail.

Questionable practices — ? Some discussion of drug and alcohol use.

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Under the Never Sky: A Story of Loss, Betrayal and Discovery As Changeable As the Sky

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In Veronica Rossi’s version of a dystopian future it is the sky with its electrical storms or “Aethers” that is the greatest threat to happiness. Unless, of course, you count all those oh-too-human emotions that just can’t seem to be left behind– no matter how our future selves try. Told in alternating viewpoints, Rossi’s novel starts slowly with what is by now a cliche opener — an adolescent prank gone bad. In this one, a group of Dwellers break out of their over-regulated, over-monitored lives inside the “pods” and go for a jaunt in the wild.  The story picks up speed once it moves outside the pods and we meet the second viewpoint character, the unnaturally gifted, Perry. The dual voices of these two young protagonists take the reader deeply into a tale of survival, betrayal and love.

Aria is a Dweller, a person who has spent her entire life living in the safety of the domed pods, away from the dangers of life on the outside- under the gene-altering power of the Aether. In her world, all activity takes place in the video game-like virtual “realms” where life is lived safely, and risk free. Nothing is left to chance, there, not even procreation.

On the night Aria tags along with a group of teenagers who sneak out of their pod, called Reverie, just for the fun of it, her goals are different than the others. She needs help from one of the group’s more popular members. Aria’s mothers, a geneticist who lives in a distant domed community called Bliss, has not been in contact with her for weeks.  When she and her friends encounter one of the “Savages,” those who live in the unprotected world, and the adventure on the outside turns deadly, Aria is held responsible. Her punishment — to be cast out into the unknown. In short, a sentence of a slow agonizing death.

On the outside, however, Aria meets Perry, the savage who was really responsible for the the pod-dweller’s death. Perry rescues Aria from certain death., but, although he ensures her survival, he does not offer her friendship, or the time and space she needs to grieve for her lost home. Soon it becomes clear that both of these young people are struggling with loss. Perry, a genetically gifted outsider has been cast out of his community, the Tides, as well. He has been held responsible for the capture of his nephew by the Pod-Dwellers. Together, Aria and Perry seek help from the odd but resourceful Marron, who Perry claims can repair Aria’s SmartEye, the device both Aria and Perry believe is the key to finding out what happened to their lost loved ones. In the confines of Marron’s walled compound, Delphi, the two discover the depths of the other’s loss and find consolation in each other’s arms.

The first installment of this dystopian series ends satisfactorily, but with much of the story still to be told. The love story unfolds slowly through well observed emotional and physical detail. The relationship grows organically and with patience, and so feels much more substantial than other YA romances set in dystopian futures. While Perry’s reliance on his sense of smell is reminiscent of another YA love interest of an unnatural kind, Perry never comes across as anything but genuinely human -compassionate, gentle, and very much a warm, flesh-and-blood boy.

Both the love scenes and the necessary violence are told straightforwardly, with emotion and power, but with few graphic details. The action is intense. However, the story also treats loftier questions about empathy, loyalty, family ties, and the inevitability of death and its relationship to life. In this series opener, Rossi provides ample fodder for deeper discussions, and her tale makes a worthwhile read for those inclined toward love stories set in yet another dystopia.

Sexual content – S

Violence – VV

Questionable Behavior – ?

Grade Level – 8th and up