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War: What is it good for?

Whether providing historical overview, personal reminiscence, or fictional depiction of events, books about war can take many forms in YA literature. Readers interested in the hows and whys of the world’s conflicts, both past and present, will find much to ponder in the four titles below. Also, be sure not to miss Steve Sheinkin’s newest book, the excellent Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon about the Cold War. (1216 years, Flash Point/Roaring Brook)

Beyond CourageIn Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust, author Doreen Rappaport presents numerous instances of Jewish resistance, grouping them by theme and introduced with brief essays, that make up a far-reaching survey. Examples range from secret acts of defiance (forging documents, writing poetry) to outright fighting (the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising) and escape (the Sobibor death camp). The narrative effectively highlights the fortitude and resiliency of humankind in the face of atrocity. Many black-and-white and sepia photographs further develop the subjects and setting. (11–15 years, Candlewick)

A Game for SwallowsZeina Abirached’s autobiographical graphic novel A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return is set in 1984 Beirut, a city with Christians and Muslims locked in civil war. The story’s focus is a single harrowing night when Zeina’s parents, visiting her grandparents a few blocks away, must make their way home through heavy bombing. Abirached skillfully weaves flashbacks and explanatory asides into the narrative; despite the oppressive atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, much-needed moments of levity shine through. Stark, dramatic illustrations effectively capture elements of the culture and lend nuance to the tale’s high emotions. (11–15 years, Graphic Universe/Lerner)

Personal EffectsSeven months since his beloved brother T.J. was killed in Iraq, Matt, the main character in E. M. Kokie’s Personal Effects, is so laden with anger and pain that he is on the verge of exploding. A vocal pacifist pushes Matt over the edge: he breaks the student’s nose and smashes a glass trophy case. Suspended for a week, he worries only about what his violence-prone ex-sergeant father will do. When Matt discovers love letters among T.J’s things, he lights out on a road trip to explore some unknown pieces of his brother’s life. Kokie’s well-crafted debut novel depicts a complex military family while tracing one young man’s hard-won coming of age. (14–17 years, Candlewick)

This Is Not ForgivenessIn Celia Rees’s This Is Not Forgiveness, Jamie has always had a contentious relationship with his older brother, especially now that Rob has returned from Afghanistan with a case of posttraumatic stress disorder. Rob is also sniffing around Jamie’s love interest Caro, a wild but misunderstood girl with a bad reputation—and a past with Rob about which Jamie is in the dark. Meanwhile, Rob’s illness grips him tighter and tighter, making him unstable and highly unpredictable. The book’s climax—explosive, violent, and unexpected—will leave readers unsettled and, like Jamie, looking for answers. (14–17 years, Bloomsbury)

From the November 2012 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She is a current member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee.



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