Monday, August 23, 2010

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

Richie Perry wasn't supposed to be in Vietnam. Yeah, he'd enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school because he couldn't afford college and someone had to support his family, especially his younger brother, Ken. But an Army doctor said Richie had a bum knee, so he wasn't fit for combat duty. And definitely not for duty in Vietnam.

But there was a paperwork mix up. Richie was shipped off to Vietnam while the rest of his unit was sent to Germany, and although Richie arrived in Vietnam, his medical papers didn't seem to have made it at all.

Richie can't leave Vietnam without the medical profile. While they wait for it to arrive, Richie is to stay with the squad he was assigned to. He's in the infantry, part of a squad with a couple other guys new to Vietnam: Peewee and Johnson, both of whom are black, as is Richie, and Jenkins. Rumors around the camp say that the war will end soon, but in the meantime, patrols are still needed, landing zones must be secured, and villages visited. And in spite of the rumors, it seems as if the fighting is getting worse. It doesn't help that Captain Stewart is volunteering the squads under his command, including Richie's, for duties in an attempt to increase his kill totals, hoping this will lead to his promotion. Nor does the soldiers' suspicions that a racist sergeant is putting the black soldiers in the most dangerous positions.

Prolific author Walter Dean Myers is in fine form in Fallen Angels, his novel set in the Vietnam War. It's not a romantic depiction of war, but a terribly human one. Bonds are formed among the squad members, making the toll of seeing friends die that much greater. They are forced into situations where they must kill or be killed; characters—characters readers come to care for—must kill in order to survive, and in some cases, they will die anyway.

Myers doesn't linger excessively on sentimentality, however. The colloquial dialogue, including some racist and homophobic language used by the soldiers*, is realistic and sharp. Richie is a sympathetic narrator, and since Myers is equally adept at writing battle scenes and quieter moments, Fallen Angels is fast-paced, thoughtful, and very readable.

If you've read Sunrise Over Fallujah (discussed here earlier this month), Richie's name may be familiar, since he is the uncle of the main character in the former book.

* probably one of the reasons Fallen Angels is frequently challenged. It was the 36th most challenged book between 1990 and 1999, and 11th on the list of the 100 most challenged books between 2000 and 2009.

Book source: public library.

Cross-posted at The YA YA YAs.

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