________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 19 . . . . May 15, 2009

cover Wounded.

Eric Walters.
Toronto, ON: Puffin, 2009.
171 pp.,pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 978-0-14-317177-5.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Kim Aippersbach.

**** /4

Reviewed from Uncorrected and Unpublished Proofs.

excerpt:

All at once my whole body seemed to just melt. All the fear and tension that had been in my back and my shoulders and my jaw just drained away. A few short seconds earlier I had been completely positive it was me they were coming for, that they were standing in the doorway waiting to tell me it was my father who had been killed. I was just so grateful, I felt so relieved. I said a silent little prayer. Thank you, God. Thank you. I had dodged the bullet, my father was alive . . . but that bullet had hit Courtney's father, and Courtney.

Just as suddenly as the relief had washed over me I felt a wave of guilt overwhelm me.

Eric Walters has never shied away from difficult topics, and his latest is no exception: Wounded is about the family of a Canadian soldier serving in Afghanistan. In its short length, it deals sensitively and realistically with many typical experiences of the family whose father is at war, giving young readers a glimpse into their life.

     The story is narrated by 14-year-old Marcus whose father is serving in Special Forces in Afghanistan. At the beginning of the novel, the family has gone for more than two weeks without hearing from their father, and they are trying not to be worried. Marcus feels responsible for his mother and younger sister during his father's absence; he looks up to his father and wants him to be proud of how he is handling things. But he is also a typical 14-year-old boy, and he is in the awkward first stages of a romance with Courtney. Walters grounds his story in the details of day-to-day life as he shows Marcus and his family going through the gamut of emotions, from sadness and anxiety while their father is gone, through joy and relief when he returns unharmed, back to anxiety when his behaviour proves he's not as unharmed as he looks. A few suspenseful scenes show Marcus's father exhibiting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Marcus has to face the fact that his hero is flawed, and he has to be man enough to stand up to his father and insist he get help.

     There is a wonderful scene part-way through the novel in which Marcus is called down to the principal's office. The kids in his class joke about him being in trouble, but Marcus knows there's every possibility he's going to be told his father is dead. The dramatic contrast between their reality and his reality is expertly handled, and Marcus's walk down the hallway is as tense and suspenseful as any adventure story. The passage quoted above comes when he finds out that it's Courtney's father who was killed. Later, Marcus's father tells Marcus the story of what happened when Courtney's father died; Walters is thus able to deal with the realities of war, death, and grief, but at one remove. The reader is not in the battlefield, only hearing about it. The narrator does not experience the grief of losing a father, but he has to learn how to comfort his friend in her grief.

     Walters walks a number of fine lines in this novel: I think he successfully conveys the reality of war without being too graphic for the audience. He also manages to show respect for the efforts of soldiers without glorifying war. He did come across as slightly preachy with his message about the importance of the soldier's job. "Outside were the civilians——the people we protected. The thing was, they didn't even really seem to know that that was our job. My father was in Afghanistan to protect them, and if he wasn't there the wolves would soon be at their doors." Saying this once would have been effective, but Walters repeats it several times and ends up sounding didactic. But on the whole, his themes of honour, responsibility and what it means to be a man are presented convincingly through plot and character.

     The success of this novel is in the characterization. Each member of Marcus's family is a believable and complex character, and the narrative voice is authentic. The novel's problem is perhaps solved a little too easily, but the strength of Marcus's character makes the climax truly moving.

     I recommend this novel for a slightly older audience because of the subject matter. Young adults who like Walter's work will not be disappointed in Wounded. Teachers will find it a useful starting point for any discussion of war or soldiers. It fills a gap in literature for young people about war, and it's an interesting and enjoyable read in its own right.

Highly Recommended.

Kim Aippersbach is a free-lance editor and writer with three children in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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