Sunday, June 07, 2009

Book Review: Shooting the Moon by Frances O'Roark Dowell

Book: Shooting the Moon
Author: Frances O'Roark Dowell
Published: 2008

Time: 0:34:39
Number of Pages: 163

Jamie Dexter is almost thirteen years old and knows everything. She knows that her father, the Colonel, is the wisest and most capable man in the world, and her eighteen-year-old brother TJ isn't far behind. She knows that the war in Vietnam is justified and the U.S. Army is the finest and best organization in the world.

But to her surprise, when her brother TJ enlists, it's their dad who tries to talk him out of it. She doesn't understand why, but this disconnect between the two most important men in her life is the first chink in her certainty about life.

When T.J. does get to Vietnam, he doesn't send back descriptions of war games or adventures, at least not to her. Their parents get monotonous letters about bad food and huge bugs, but Jamie only gets a roll of film each time, with the request to develop them herself. As she learns the fine art of developing pictures, she finds pictures of jungle and soldier boys with beer and scruffy mascot pups. But she also discovers pictures of wounded soldiers, of fear and uncertainty and the grinding horrors of war. And always at least once in each roll, the moon, the ever-changing, barely understood moon.

Over the course of a summer, she begins to understand that nobody, least of all T.J. or the Colonel, has all the answers.

Why Did I Hype?: Frances O'Roark Dowell is one of those unusual authors who writes realistic boys and girls, light and serious, and yet her books never feel like a stretch. She just writes the story that's there and handles it ably.

Live-Up-to-the-Hype Score: 8/10

Like another recent read of mine, Georgie's Moon, this book deals with the Vietnam War on the home front, but not with the ferocious anti-war scene. It would be interesting to do a three-book study, combining an antiwar-protest novel with those two in order to span different views of the same tumultuous time period.

The switch from blind faith to questions happened a little fast for me, but it's a short book, and the seeds for the conversion are planted early and steadily. I thought for sure that the climax of the novel would be T.J.'s death, but I should have trusted Dowell, who chooses a quieter method to finally shatter Jamie's certainty.

Try this for a quiet, contemplative novel about the slow realization that growing up doesn't mean getting all the answers, but only more questions.

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