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2006
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Trade Reviews

  Booklist Review

Gr. 7-10. Rick Ward, a recent high-school graduate, is uncertain about everything in his life except his desire to escape his unhappy home life and his bullying father. He enlists in the army and requests a combat assignment in Vietnam. After training, he volunteers for a special combat unit that goes on deep reconnaissance missions to hunt and kill the enemy. Hughes is especially effective in conveying the brutality and horrors of combat, and Rick's conflict between his sense of duty to his country and the compassion and responsibility he feels for the ruined lives of so many Vietnamese. After being wounded during an act of heroism, Rick has a homecoming similar to that of many other Vietnam veterans. He comes back feeling the war was a senseless waste, and tortured by recurring nightmares, he finds it difficult to adjust normal life. The story ends with his future uncertain but hopeful. This is a compelling, insightful story about the emotional, physical, and psychological scars that wars leave upon soldiers. --Ed Sullivan Copyright 2006 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

It's 1969. Rick Ward is out of high school and realizes he hasn't experienced anything real in life yet. He wants to be a writer, and enlisting in the army might give him something to write about--brave heroes, tough realities and truths found close to the action, at the heart of darkness. He wants to publish a first novel and send a copy to his former girlfriend and sign it, "With love, from the guy you didn't believe in." By the time he fights in Vietnam and returns, he's not exactly sure what truth he has found, but he does know that his war experience is about the people--about Trang and Whiley and J.D., actual people--not everyone's vague conceptions of war. Simply written and taut, like the novel Rick might write, Hughes's work will appeal to a wide audience. It's a war story and a coming-of-age tale of a boy seeking real experience and a way to make a difference in the world. A solid companion to Philip Caputo's photo-essay 10,000 Days of Thunder (Sept. 2005). (note on sources) (Fiction. 12+) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Summary
Rick Ward wants to go to war.He doesn't know why. Maybe he's running from his dad, who has an uncontrollable temper. Maybe he's running from a lost love, his high-school sweetheart, who is a stranger to him now. Or maybe he's just running -- to find himself.Desperate to experience real life, Rick enlists in the army with the Charlie Rangers, a special unit in Vietnam. They infiltrate the jungle, kill with precision, and get out quickly. Rick isn't sure he can shoot anyone, but he wants to be tested, like his heroes, Hemingway and Conrad. If he can see the heart of darkness and survive, he'll be a man -- and finally have something to write about.But as Rick discovers, war isn't what anyone -- either the protestors, the politicians, or the writers -- say it is. It's far bigger, scarier, and more complicated than anything he could ever have imagined.Dean Hughes captures the sights and sounds of war -- and the courage of a young soldier fighting to survive.
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