13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
E. R. Bird
- Published on Amazon.com
I've written about this before, but there's a flush of appreciation a reviewer experiences when they discover a great author that they've never read before. Even if that person has been around for years. In the case of Frances O'Roark Dowell, I'd read her first Phineas L. MacGuire book and I thought it was great. Still, I'd never gotten around to reading some of her better known works for older readers. I'd never picked up Dovey Coe or Chicken Boy or even The Secret Language of Girls. It just never came up. Still, I figure a person's got to start somewhere and so the book I decided to begin with her newest title, the historically minded "Shooting the Moon". A lot of people love Ms. Dowell and maybe they've become unable to tell one great book of hers from another. To those people I say this: This book is amazing. Top notch, wonderful, humorous, meaningful, with a pull and a hit in the gut that'll knock a readers' socks off. What we've got here is a title that has an excellent chance of engaging every reader that comes across it. And timely doesn't even begin to describe it.
Jamie Dexter is a card shark, an army brat, and her father's daughter. She and her older brother TJ were raised to love the United States Army by their father, the Colonel, and as far as they're concerned the greatest thing in the entire world is getting a chance to fight and die for your country. Seems like the Colonel would be pleased as punch to have TJ enlist and go to Vietnam to fight instead of going to college, but oddly enough that doesn't seem to be the case. Still, off TJ goes and before he leaves Jamie asks him to write her letters about everything he sees and feels over there. Except that TJ doesn't do that. Instead he sends her rolls of black and white film he's taken over there with very precise instructions: "Jamie: No facilities here ... Please develop and send contact sheets." Of course, that means that Jamie has to learn how to develop film, and she does when she gets a chance. And through TJ's lens, Jamie sees more than just what it's like in Vietnam. She now hears the experiences of the soldiers that walk through the rec center where she works. She sees her father as a man and not a larger than life figure. And she begins to understand that sometimes things aren't as simple as you would like them to be.
Reading my description of the book I know that you might be a little worried. It sounds like a book inclined to get preachy, doesn't it? I'm as anti-war as the best of them, but there's nothing worse than a work of fiction for kids that gets all holier-than-thou, proselytizing its views on war and how it's naughty. But Frances O'Roark Dowell isn't going to play that game. For one thing, she really is an army brat. For another, she's a good writer. This isn't a book that tells you what to believe. It's a book that starts with someone who thinks that they know what to think only to find that the world is a complicated place. It was a complicated place in the late 60s and it's a complicated place today. Which is not to say that you can't take a moral or a lesson out of this book if you want to. It's only giving you an option.
There is a school of thought that says that if you place a story in history, you better have a darn good reason for doing so. So the question becomes, could Dowell have set this story in the here and now rather than the past? Would it have served the moral better? The answer is no, there is no other time period that would have better served this story. For one thing, you could have a character taking pictures with black and white film, but digital cameras are undoubtedly more probable today. And you could have sent TJ to Iraq instead of Vietnam, but part of the reason the end of this book works as well as it does is because we can look at the past and learn from it.
The thing is, this is a book that's easy to love. You love the people in it. I, for one, loved the character of Jamie. She felt true and real and interesting. She also carries her certainties with her on her sleeve. "I was six months away from turning thirteen and I thought I knew everything." Can't say it any plainer than that (not to mention that it carries a whiff of To Kill a Mockingbird). Really, every character in this book (and there aren't that many) appears with all three dimensions firmly intact. For example, Jamie describes Cindy Lorenzo, a girl who is somewhat learning disabled, as being "nervous and excitable and shaky around the edges. She hit and bit." Pitch perfect, that.
As for the writing itself, Dowell's book is only 176 pages and she packs each one with interesting text. Chapter Two, for example, begins, "We were stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, a flat piece of real estate that threatened to burst into flames every afternoon from June through September." Or the first sentences of Chapter Four, "TJ's first letter to me wasn't a letter at all. It was a roll of film." You can see that Dowell includes equal parts interest and good writing, and the effect is tight. This is a book that doesn't mince words. It gets right to the point every time and doesn't sacrifice anything in the process. Rare? You don't know the half of it. The writing and the editing on this puppy must have been intense.
It's hard to find fault here. I do know at least one person who thought it a little odd that the book didn't concentrate more on the moon landing and how that would have affected the characters. The book is called "Shooting the Moon" after all. But Dowell covers her bases, having TJ speculate at times about "the idea that there are human footprints on the moon's surface." Classrooms of children will someday be asked what the moon signifies to TJ and to Jamie. I can already see it. My questions and concerns about the book were a little more basic. I would have liked a little more background on the Colonel's past. Did he serve in WWII or Korea? Does he know what real combat is like? Does this inform what he feels about his own son enlisting? And maybe an explanation of where Jamie is getting all this photographic paper and chemicals for developing her brother's pictures would have been nice. I assume that the army provided all this free of charge in their rec center but we don't know it for a fact.
Otherwise it's as fine a book as you could hope for. With its magnificent backing and forthing within the story's timeline, its spot on characterization, its plot, writing, and general kid-friendly text (always important and seldom recognized) Frances O'Roark Dowell has more than just a winner here. She has a classic. 2008 required reading for any and for all.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Matthew A. Wigdahl
- Published on Amazon.com
On the recommendation of a kid lit blogger, I ordered a copy of this small, unpretentious book and had a read-through. It is wonderful!
Jamie Dexter is a military brat whose father is a colonel and whose brother has enlisted to be sent to Vietnam. As the story progresses Jamie, who has been pro-war and battle-ready her whole life, begins to reconsider things as she sees her brother's photos from Vietnam. Instead of sending her letters to describe the war, he sends her his undeveloped film rolls to show her. No words, just photos. And in each roll, a photo of the moon.
I feel that this book would work better with older elementary students, only because a coinciding study of Vietnam would be much easier to get into more deeply. The reading level is probably a bit lower than 5th grade, making it an ideal book for a book club who can handle more complex subject matter and high level mature discussions, but perhaps requires a shorter, less dense text. Great themes to explore here, and (at least for this reader, who never even had any siblings gone to war) strong emotional connections.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
New York Reader
- Published on Amazon.com
SHOOTING THE MOON is a deeply moving, gorgeously written novel about one military family's gradual disillusionment with the Vietnam War. It's the most realistic, searching kids' book I've read about that neglected period in American history. It's also a delicately nuanced family drama with unforgettable characters: the richly drawn heroine Jamie, who slowly develops an understanding not just about the war but about love and honor; her soldier brother who communicates by sending her undeveloped photos of Vietnam; her father the Colonel, a steadfast but surprisingly touching career Army man. Everything about this book is fresh and believable--and also poetic, resonant, and memorable. I think kids--and smart adults--will be reading this book for years to come. A real standout.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
I guess I'll be the dissenter here.
I thought the book was good, very readable, with good chronological order, which helps young readers make more sense of what they read. I could identify with the main character, Jamie. I was a girl during the Vietnam war, I had a father who had been in the military and who thought the war was just. I idolized my father like Jamie idolizes hers. The premise of the book was okay--how a young girl feels about the war her brother is fighting in. Overall, it wasn't bad.
However...(you knew that was coming)...the story falls a little flat because of poor character development, lack of depth in the story development and a hugely unsatisfying ending. It ends so abruptly that I had to look up the author's bio to see if she died before she finished the book. It was the only explanation I could think of to end the book on such an odd place.
Although Jamie, the main character, spends a lot of time with several of the side characters, we find out little about them. Yes, soldiers are trained to be stoic, but the story would have been much better if the author would have let us have the tiniest peek behind the stoicism to see honest emotions. What did her best friend feel when his brother was killed? What emotions were below the surface when he discovered he was about to be shipped to the war? What did the other soldiers really think about Jamie's enthusiasm for war in general? Why didn't the Colonel try harder to prevent his son from enlisting? Just leaving hints about going to college instead of going to war really seems out of character for a hard-driven man who is used to being obeyed.
The mom almost doesn't exist at all. She seems to be in the novel simply to give Jamie a two-parent family. We know nothing about how she felt about her only son enlisting during a time of war. I know several mothers whose sons have done just that in the last couple years and I can tell you that even the "army wives" don't just go on with business as usual, as Jamie's mother seems to do. I would have been nice to experience some of the angst she must have felt at the prospect of her only son potentially being killed.
The motif of the moon is totally lost in the story. There doesn't seem to be any reason at all for TJ to photograph the moon so much. If only we would know WHY the moon is important in this story...
I can guess that Ms. Dowell intends this book to be semiautobiographical? If only she would have shown us the honest emotions this book begs for, it would have been a supremely wonderful read. As it is, I have to wonder what the point of the story is.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Sticking to your convictions often takes courage and willpower. But sometimes, questioning what you believe and allowing room for doubt can take even more determination and requires a different kind of courage. How far are you willing to go to stand up for what you believe? And how much does it take before you're able to change your stance? This is the dilemma presented in SHOOTING THE MOON, a touching coming-of-age novel set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, by critically-acclaimed author Frances O'Roark Dowell.
SHOOTING THE MOON is the story of 12-year-old Jamie Dexter, an Army brat who couldn't be prouder when her older brother TJ signs up for the armed forces and gets shipped off to Vietnam. As she waits for news from the front, she volunteers at the base's recreation center and befriends Private Hollister, a young soldier who helps her pass the time with games of gin rummy. Her father, whom she calls the Colonel, has brought the family up to believe that a life in the military is the key to living a life of success. Jamie wholly believes in the Colonel's philosophy until TJ begins sending her rolls of film from Vietnam.
As she develops the photographs, a different picture of military life begins to emerge for her. Faced with the brutality of the war, Jamie comes to the conclusion that she needs to intervene when she learns that Private Hollister is about to be reassigned to Vietnam. Steeling her courage, Jamie prepares to confront her father, the one man she thinks stands between her new friend and the horrors her brother has revealed.
In Jamie, Dowell has created a strong, believable young girl who shows both remarkable insight into the world around her and an almost melancholy naivety. It's almost heartbreaking to watch as Jamie, steadfast in her beliefs at the beginning of the book, slowly begins to see her opinions change and realize there is "more in heaven and earth."
When someone else challenges our beliefs, it's hard enough. But when the questions are from within, it can be world-changing. At the same time, though, it's fulfilling to see her make the journey from taking everything as read to raising some serious questions about the war and the military. Her relationship with Hollister is sweet and provides a nice counterpoint to the turmoil she begins to feel at home. Although the very end feels a little too neat, it offers a beautiful coda to Jamie's journey and will leave readers satisfied.
SHOOTING THE MOON will draw you in with its simplicity and astound you with its powerful story. Frances O'Roark Dowell's seemingly quiet book will make a memorable imprint on all who indulge.
--- Reviewed by Brian Farrey