There are always two sides to a story, sometimes three. For some, being part of the military and serving one’s country is in their blood. It’s a privilege, a rite of passage, a duty that you don’t shirk away from. You serve your time, come back a hero, and pass along that tradition. And, that is beyond brave in my book. But there is also another side that doesn’t get talked about- the negative. I’m not just talking about being separated from loved ones for long periods of time, eating crappy food, and surviving desert temperatures while deployed. There is that ugly truth that no one wants to talk about- mental health. If you are a good soldier, you can will your brain not to be weak and if you can’t, then you fake it, so your family thinks you are okay. Until they realize you’re not and it’s too late.
Jake Liddell is of the former; he comes from a strong military family, and his grandfather was a general during Vietnam and is a powerful man in the small town in which they all live. Jake dreamed of joining the military, was in the JROTC in high school, and signed the papers as soon as graduation was over because that’s what he was taught to do. A year later and Jake is coming home to a hero’s welcome, complete with a parade, speaking at his old high school, and being shown off at one of his grandfather’s parties. And he hates every minute of it. The only reason he’s back is his leg, which he injured while deployed. He was one of the lucky ones, but his nightmares say otherwise. Some of his friends are missing whole body parts, some are dead, and some died by their own hand while he watched them spiral and did nothing. He’s only there for a week before heading out to Walter Reed for rehab and then to finish his six months. This week at home allows Jake to ponder some of the horrific things he and his friends went through, hence the nightmares. When the editor of his old high school’s newspaper asks to interview him, she brings up things that have been weighing on his mind, but he’d never thought to give them a voice. Not that he would. Talking about dishonest recruitment practices, how the JROTC is basically a giant recruitment ground, and all the missing information when you sign on that dotted line would be a massive betrayal, and he’s not about to do that to his brothers.
Told in flashbacks of the skirmish that left Jake injured, this is an important story. Todd Strasser does a great job of letting the reader decide what is right and wrong; Jake is only the starting point for discussion. Bonus points for a short book that can be read in just a few hours and packs a powerful punch in just a short time. This is an easy recommendation.