War. This is not a topic that I tend to read about. The human condition that goes along with wars, okay, maybe (I’ve been known to read way too many books about the Holocaust), but not usually books about the actual fighting. But I know a lot of young readers who are completely fascinated by this topic. Those readers would make a wise choice in reading Alan Gratz’s newest novel, Grenade.
*Thank you to the Kid Lit Exchange Network for a review copy of this book which was published on 10/9/18. All opinions are my own.
Grenade takes readers into a part of WWII that many don’t think about very often – the battle in Okinawa. Much of my knowledge of WWII is in the European campaign. But we cannot forget the battles in the Pacific and specifically, the significance of the island of Okinawa. In this book, Gratz paints a vivid picture of what war was like for the people of Okinawa and how harrowing it was for the American soldiers there as well. He forces us to understand what people living in Okinawa had to go through when the war came to them. As he explains in his note to readers, “unlike the characters in Refugee [who were forced to leave their homes due to violence], the Okinawans couldn’t escape their country when the violence came….[Grenade is] a story about people who were refugees in their own land.”
The first half of the book takes readers back and forth between Ray, a young American soldier, and Hideki, a thirteen year old Okinawan boy forced to join the Blood and Iron Student Corps and fight for the Japanese Army. Hideki and the others his age have each been given two grenades – one to kill Americans with and the other to then kill themselves with. They are told that the Americans are monsters and that they should kill as many of them as possible. Ray, on the flip side, has been told that the Okinawans are different from the Japanese, but then sees as the more veteran Marines in his unit kill rather than take prisoners for fear of their lives. No one truly knows who the monsters are as war makes monsters out of everyone.
Of course, Ray and Hideki have to meet up at some point. While their actual time in each other’s presence is incredibly short, they each change the other’s life in immense ways and lead the reader into part two. From there, the book focuses on Hikeki’s survival and understanding of all that the war in his home is bringing. He sees what it is doing to the island and to the people. He sees innocent women and children being used as human shields. He sees starvation and fear. He comes to understand that the “curse” he thought he had always lived under, a curse that marked his as a coward, was actually the furthest thing from the truth.
As I said, I wouldn’t normally read a book depicting war. I can’t say that I “liked” this book, but Alan Gratz is one of my favorite authors and his writing style is powerful and thoughtful. For those who are drawn into books about wars, especially WWII, this is a must read.