Guy Going Under—a hero who “kind of likes just doin’ nothing”

The author just doin’ nothing in Death Valley

I recently spent three weeks camping in Death Valley National Park. There, when not hiking canyons, I basked in the pleasant—well, hot—temperatures and eased into a languid “I kind of like just doin’ nothing, it’s something that I do” sort of existence (description courtesy of a Robert Earl Keen song—Something I Do). Continue reading

Breaking Stalin’s Nose: a novel of a young boy and the lies of Stalin-era Communism

Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin: Moscow Metro mosaic (beggs-Flickr)

Sasha Zaichik is the protagonist in this short novel, Breaking Stalin’s Nose, by Eugene Yelchin. Sasha is less a hero than an innocent victim, for what else can you call a ten-year old who’s been brought up with nothing but lies in a cynical, totalitarian state that maintains itself through fear and terror.

At first glance Yelchin’s novel looks like a book for children, but don’t be fooled—it carries a message that resonates with readers of all ages. I’m talking about the human toll of Stalin-era Communism in the Soviet Union, but it could apply to any dictatorial government or ideology, past or present. Think Nazi Germany, Maoist China, North Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe, the Taliban, etc. Continue reading

The Vietnam War—still alive in YA fiction. Part II. I Pledge Allegiance: Vietnam #1

Operation “Macarthur” / US Army Center of Military History

I Pledge Allegiance: Vietnam #1, by Chris Lynch, as you might expect in a series, builds the background for what follows—the experiences of four friends: Morris, Ivan, Rudi, and Beck. This first book depicts the perspective of Morris. The setting is Boston in the late 1960’s when the Vietnam War is raging, the draft is national policy, and every young man of a certain age is (or should be) worried about being sent to Vietnam. Morris continually dreams the same dream. He is in Vietnam in a vicious firefight and his three close friends are there too. They’re all shredded to bits. They might die in different ways and in a different order, but they all always die. The four friends have stuck together through all their school years and by this time have become close. When one has a problem, they all have a problem. Continue reading

The Vietnam War—still alive in YA fiction. Part I. Everybody Sees the Ants

POW-MIA Flag

The Vietnam Conflict ended nearly forty years ago, yet it still touches our lives. Two recent young adult (YA) books are prime examples. One, with a contemporary setting (Everybody Sees the Ants) depicts how lives are still affected by what happened. The setting for the other is historical (I Pledge Allegiance) and provides an example of the war as a resource for current literature. Neither book is a guts-and-glory war story—in both the war serves more as a backdrop in the lives of the characters. Although the two books are very different, they do have one element in common—a recurring dream by the hero. I’ll describe the two books separately in a two-part post. Continue reading

Kate Shelley: train rescuer Part II—and a railroad trestle in my past

Kate Shelley: train rescuer Part II

An Iowa trestle from the author's childhood: bridge across Pittman Creek near West Point, Iowa - photo taken by Mary Eipert shortly before demolition of bridge

For those who took an interest in the story of Kate Shelley, I’d like to share a few more interesting tidbits. According to the accounts I’ve read, after the death of her husband and son Kate’s mother not only lapsed into poor physical health, she also lost her spirit. I suppose that means she broke mentally and could no longer adequately care for and raise her children. This placed a terrible burden of responsibility on Kate, her oldest child, and Kate sacrificed her own childhood and later independence in order to fill this void and take care of her family. She was not recognized for this heroic act. Continue reading

Kate Shelley: train rescuer

Kate Shelley Bridge - 1900 replacement of original trestle. Flickr/David Wilson.

You won’t find a better example of real-life heroism than the story of a brave fifteen-year-old Iowa girl named Kate Shelley. I can picture what this girl went through because I grew up not so far from the Des Moines River, and near a railway with a high, scary trestle that I crossed a few times.

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A boy, a gun, and a moral dilemma: Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

Although I’ve disliked the cold ever since my army infantry training days, I do like to read about it. The setting is one reason I picked up Revolver, by Marcus Sedgwick. A turn-of-the-century gold field and the environs of an iron mine in the frozen north of Alaska (OK, that north isn’t really frozen all year round but it always makes for a more dramatic description) provide the setting for this adventure novel. While this sounds like the very ingredient of a riveting Jack London story, I should warn you at the outset to be prepared for something slightly different. Continue reading

Jim Hawkins, Treasure Island, and a little moral ambiguity too

Treasure Island stands out as a classic of young adventure fiction for good reason. Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale has survived the test of time because it is fast paced enough for the modern reader, packed with action and heroism that the young readily take to, and populated mostly with characters who leave little doubt about whose side they’re on. I say mostly, because one exception added a new element to this type of adventure fiction in the 1880’s—moral ambiguity. But more about that below. Continue reading

A young fictional hero from Payback at Morning Peak by Gene Hackman

Here’s another 19th century young western hero, but a fictional one this time. The book is Payback at Morning Peak by Gene Hackman. Okay, I’ll admit that I picked up the book out of curiosity to see if the former actor can write.

Northern New Mexico and central Colorado provide the setting for this novel. Jubal, a 17 year old boy, is out hunting when he hears shots and sees smoke at his family’s farmstead. He returns to find his family under attack by a gang of lawless rowdies. To his horror, he finds his father gagged, trussed up, and suspended over a roaring bonfire. Seeing the indescribable agony his father is experiencing in being roasted alive, Jubal knows he must reach inside himself and shoot his father. Jubal’s mother is already dead and his sister is dying. Both have been brutally raped. Continue reading