Fallen Angels proves history repeats itself

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers; published by Scholastic, New York, 1988; 309 pages.

On an airplane.  That’s where we meet Richie Perry and where we bid him farewell.  To and from Viet Nam.  What he experiences in between, in wrenching detail, is war, man.  Whether in Viet Nam or Fallujah, war is hell.  For Richie, war is where he shouldn’t be; it’s a military paperwork snafu.  He won’t be there long.  But it doesn’t take long to realize what war can do to a person.

I chose this book because Walter Dean Myers was the inaugural winner of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.  Well, that was the primary reason.  I also chose to read it because the Viet Nam era had a significant impact on my childhood.  No, I didn’t lose a family member “in country,” but I had friends who did.  Images on television, discussions in elementary school, and overheard hushed horrors from older cousins made an impression on my tween sense of purpose.  I had a POW bracelet.  I led a protest, in a really hip peace-sign poncho, under the flagpole at school.  I was a preteen anti-Nam protester.  In hindsight, my naive sense of purpose was based on the experiences of others; in fact, it was virtually created by the impressions of other people.  Since then, I’ve read non-fiction about the era, to find out more about the period that shaped my politics and my adulthood.

Reading Myers’ fictionalized account took me back to my childhood.  This was the war that my cousins talked about, and that I imagined.  Myers’ use of language sent me hurtling backwards through time and space.  I have had a hard time sleeping since finishing Fallen Angels. Not only is Viet Nam haunting me, but images of my neighbors’ children, fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, are walking in my dreams.  This book has to be on booklists for high school students to read.  What war really is, not what the spin-doctors create for us, has to be accessible to them.  They can make up their own minds about the necessity of wars, if they have information from both sides of the debate.  Myers’ book may not be non-fiction, but it is based on the multitudes of stories of soldiers who served in Viet Nam, Iraq or Afghanistan.

On another note, the back of the book (at least the edition I read), includes information about the author as well as an interview with Walter Dean Myers.  In light of his recent award, this is vital information to share with young adults.

3P     4Q     Grade Level: 9-12

Cover Art: Iconic images of a Viet Nam era soldier are in the foreground, while war rages behind him.  The font is militaristic.  In all, the cover will attract boys, and maybe girls with an interest in war.

From Reading Lists: Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, 2010; Best Books for Young Adults (YALSA), 1988; and The Way It Was (Historical Fiction)

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