Monday, January 16, 2017

Soldier Boys: A Review and a Giveaway

Congratulations to Caroline McAlister  for winning TANGLED LINES on last week's blog.


Two soldiers, two boys. One American, one German. Prolific author Dean Hughes brings their lives, hopes, and dreams together in Soldier Boys (Simon and Schuster, 2001. Audio CD, 2016)

Spencer Morgan has just turned 15 in 1941. He longs to show that he is a man. He believes he'll accomplish that by joining the war effort and becoming a paratrooper--the toughest soldiers who receive the most respect. He daydreams about returning from action and impressing his crush, Lu Ann, with how brave and mature he has become. Although his father sees through his motivation, he reluctantly allows his son to drop out of high school and join. 

Spencer's superficial motivation is apparent. He wants to be a paratrooper in order to wear pants that blouse up, feel taller, do something hard, and be part of the best fighting group. He's also driven by his fear that the war would be over before he has a chance to accomplish his goals. 

On the other side of the Atlantic, Dieter Hedrick, has a similar ambition to be seen as a man. His story begins in 1939 while training with the Nazi Youth. He is ashamed of his parents who don't support Hitler; perhaps his father was a coward in the Great War. Dieter is small, delicate, and timid and like Spencer, is afraid he'll never have a chance to be a solider. Many of his decisions within the Hitler Youth are based on wanting to be known for his bravery and to be different than his father. 

The story flips back and forth between the boys as they prepare for combat. Not unexpectedly, Spencer finds that his training is much more difficult than imagined. Dieter digs anti-tank trenches with the Hitler youth to do his part in killing the "stinking Americans." He witnesses a friend deserting and being shot, but his devotion to his Fuhrer outweighs any sadness over his friend's death. 

As the story progresses towards the soldiers' inevitable meeting, the point of view switches quicker which increases the tension. The boys' beliefs in what they are doing push them forward and help them stay alive during freezing, snowy conditions. The reader views the Siege of Bastogne (part of the Battle of the Bulge) from both perspectives and sees how homesick both boys are at Christmas, how they kept warm in the trenches the same way, and how they both hear the order to fall back and retreat.
American soldiers of the 117th Infantry RegimentTennessee National Guard, part of the 30th Infantry Division, move past a destroyed American M5A1 "Stuart" tank on their march to recapture the town of St. Vithduring the Battle of the Bulge, January 1945. (Wikipedia

There are significant secondary characters in the story. Dieter's commanding officer, Schaffer, takes a father-like interest in Dieter and advises him not to get himself killed. Not until the end does Dieter realize that Schaffer was right and not the traitor he had supposed Schaffer to be. Spencer's friend Ted realizes that, "Out here you need to hate in order to kill them." Although he was similarly motivated as Spencer, he comes to believe, "We should not have wars."

The battle scene at the end is written in great detail. The ending is sad--how can a story about war not end without sadness? But Hughes redeems the ending by showing Dieter's changes: he quits the war and says he will think about it the rest of his life. 

Soldier Boys is obviously well-researched, but I didn't connect to the story emotionally. To be honest, that may have been because the narrator sounded dispassionate to me. I wasn't sure if that was on purpose--like a reporter narrating a news reel--or that was the narrator (Stephen Plunkett)'s way he interpreted the story. I was disappointed that so much time was spent in the book showing Spencer's paratrooper training, and yet a parachute never opened when they arrived in Europe. Perhaps that was what happened in "real life."

I recommend this book as one that boys will enjoy and as a classroom resource when studying World War II. It would provoke great
discussion about character motivation and why some young men enlist.

GIVEAWAY: Leave me a comment for a chance to win this audio CD along with your email address if you are new to my blog. I'm giving it away in conjunction with TALKING STORY's winter issue on Tough Topics. Leave a comment there and you'll be entered twice. Giveaway ends January 23. 


DailyReforming said...

My son, Samuel, is fascinated with all things WWII.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Jessica. You're starting off the list!

Linda A. said...

I would like to read this one for several reasons. I do enjoy a good WWII story, but the reason that stands out most is due to your comment about not connecting emotionally. I want to learn to improve my writing skills in this area. I appreciated your critique and sharing of observations such as a more frequent switch in characters as tension rose. Thanks for another great review.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for your feedback, Linda. I was afraid that my honesty would turn people off to this book. Glad you appreciated it. Now I want you to read it so you can see if you have the same reaction! You're in.

Gretchen Griffith said...

Hi Carol, I'm like Linda, I'd like to follow through on your not connecting emotionally comment and see if it's the same for me. The book's concept sounds fascinating.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for your feedback, Linda. I was afraid that my honesty would turn people off to this book. Glad you appreciated it. Now I want you to read it so you can see if you have the same reaction! You're in. And Gretchen, you're in too!

Rosi said...

This sounds intriguing. I do love historical fiction, and the era is certainly an interesting one. I will try to check it out. Please let someone else win. I'm not a big fan of audio books.

Carol Baldwin said...

I think you would like this book, Rosi. But I know your TBR pile is bigger than mine!

Unknown said...

I think this book looks great for tween boys! There are so few books out there about boys or centering about them. My son loves historical fiction. Thank you for the chance.

Carol Baldwin said...

Robin, I'm happy to enter your name. Please leave your email address in case you win!

Unknown said...

Sorry! My email is

Carol Baldwin said...

Got it!

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