B for Buster Mass Market Paperback – Jan 10 2006
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From School Library Journal
Grade 7 Up–Filled with Buck Rogers-inspired dreams of heroic battles against the forces of evil and partly to escape an abusive, alcoholic father, 16-year-old Kak lies about his age to enlist in the Canadian Air Force in 1943. He becomes a wireless operator, flying night bombing raids over Germany from a base in Yorkshire. His fellow crew members on the antiquated Halifax bomber, B for Buster, have no idea Kak is underage, but his secret is well known to squadron member Donny Lee, another native of tiny Kakabeka. Before his own final flight, Donny urges Kak to reveal his age to their CO and be sent home, but the teen refuses, unable to imagine the overwhelming fear and terrifying dreams he will experience after his first mission. Kak's one solace is his growing friendship with Bert, the caretaker of the homing pigeons that are sent along on every op to carry back news of the fates of any bombers that don't return. One pigeon becomes Kak's good-luck companion. The pigeoneer's own secret past gives him a particularly deep empathy for Kak's fears and efforts to comprehend the nature of bravery and duty. Just as he did so masterfully in Lord of the Nutcracker Men (Delacorte, 2001), Lawrence captures the eagerness and idealism of the new recruit slowly turning to disillusionment and horror as he experiences the grim realities of battle and death. This is a lyrical coming-of-age novel and a fascinating bit of aviation history.–Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Gr. 7-12. Set during the spring of 1943, Lawrence's novel is a harrowing account of combat told from the perspective of 16-year-old Kak. Like Jack in Harry Mazer's The Last Mission (1979), Kak lies about his age in order to join the air force. But Jack, a Jewish American, wants to fight Hitler; Kak, nicknamed for his tiny Canadian hometown, just wants to flee his loveless, abusive parents and "like Captain Marvel . . . change [himself] from a boy to a hero." After his first "op," though, Kak is deeply shaken. Bert, who cares for the pigeons, finds a way to comfort the boy by putting a prize pigeon in his care. The dense mechanical specifics of planes and equipment may slow some readers, but the tender lessons of courage that Kak learns from Bert and his bird are captivating. In Kak's young, raw voice, Lawrence writes a gripping, affecting story about the thrill of flying, the terrifying realities of war, and the agony of reconciling personal fears and ideals with duty and bravery. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Thus the novel depends on an amazing coincidence which cripples its credibility right at the start. However, once that nonsense is out of the way, we get a tender and yet exciting war story about the relationship between a flight crew and their pigeon. Yes, you heard me right, apparently before each sortie over occupied Europe a homing pigeon was brought on board and used for all sorts of things, but in Kak's case, little Percy, exquisitely described by teacher Lawrence, becomes his only friend. At first Kak is turned off by Bert, the pigeoneer, dirty and messy, slovenly and fragrant, butb then when he finds out Bert's "back story" he becomes more sympathetic, if horrified. Because there but for the Grace of God went he himself.
All the boys in the flight crew carry a lucky charm of some sort; one carries a handkerchief doused with a woman's perfume somewhere on his body, and young Kak wears a ring with a ray-gun on it. He is a comics fan and loves SUPERMAN and BUCK ROGERS. The epilogue reveals that all of this story was based on reality, and it is Lawtence's tribute to the brave Canadian boys who went to war against the Nazi menace.
I didn't realize this was a book meant for kids, but it did strike me as improbable the ultra clean language of these bombadiers. About the raciest thing any of them says is "Wheezy jeezy,"--oh, and one of the British speakers under extreme provocation exclaims, "What a bloody balls-up." Outside of that, dialogue is not Iain Lawrence's forte, but he is such a good storyteller that you will forgive him such primness.
The Halifax bomber, B For Buster is battered and patched together. Nobody can tell them what happened to the previous crew, the flight engineer landed the plane and then died in the cockpit; the rest of the crew just vanished. In one of the eeriest scenes, Kak visits the plane at night and suddenly encounters the ghosts of the previous crew.
Their first op over Germany is a flight into terror. As in all young-man-at-war novels, Kak comes to fully understand the horror of war and has to face the draining fear that overtakes him on every operation.
As the wireless/radio operator, Kak is responsible for the crew's pigeon. Homing pigeons were carried on the planes as a "last resort" communication device. Bert, the disheveled and generally despised pigeoneer takes a liking to the boy and Kak finds refuge from fear working with him in the pigeon loft. His special bond with Bert's prize pigeon, Percy, becomes his salvation when Bert allows him to take Percy along on their missions. In his mind, Percy is a talisman of good luck that will protect the crew and Kak is able to do his duty and fly.
Lawrence accurately captures the danger, the fear and the anguish the fliers faced with each sortie. We can only respect their real bravery as they did the job that was asked of them.
In the excellent author's note at the end I learned about the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross. Thirty two pigeons have received this award. Lawrence gives additional history on Bomber Command and the uneasy choices that had to be made trying to balance the safety of the crews against the accuracy of the bombing runs.
He is trained as a wireless operator and sent to a squadron in England. It is the spring of 1943 and the war is still going strong. When Kak arrives at an airfield in Yorkshire, his secret is immediately put to the test. His fellow hometown schoolmate, Donny Lee, is stationed at the airfield and is shocked to see Kak walk into the mess hall. Donny threatens to expose Kak's secret in order to save Kak's life, but relents when he sees how desperate his young friend is.
Kak meets his commanding officer, Uncle Joe, and is assigned to B for Buster. B for Buster is an old Halifax Mk 1 that has seen better in its day, but is considered reliable just the same. When his crew is taken to their assigned hut, they realize just what Buster has seen by the scarce number of occupied cots in the hut. The next day, they go on their first test flight in B for Buster, and Kak is chilled by the story of the Halifax's previous crew.
While they are gearing up for their first op, Lofty, the plane's pilot, goes on a "passenger trip" with another plane. The almost twenty-year-old is considered to be an adult by Kak and wants to be a bush pilot after the war. Buzz, the mid-upper gunner for Buster, is a former railway worker whose only goal in life, it seems, is to complete a crossword puzzle he cut out from a newspaper on his first day in England. Will, the navigator, would rather write poetry than study law, and Simon, the loud Australian, is the loudest gardener Kak has ever met. Ratty, the mysterious American, would like to see Berlin, and Pop, the flight engineer, just wants to make it home safely.
Time goes by and Donny Lee takes Kak for a ride out into the surrounding countryside. They take Donny's old black Morris automobile and Kak experiences just how crazy a ride it can be. But that's nothing compared to what it can be when a crew of seven ride in it, as Kak has witnessed before. The two schoolmates bond over stories of their hometown, and Donny tries once again to talk Kak into quitting the air force while he has the chance. Kak is excited about flying, though, and the ride that day seems to foreshadow the many dramatic changes that lie ahead.
Then the day finally comes, and B for Buster is called on for its first op. Kak is excited and feels as though it will be like a comic-book adventure where good beats evil. He is even a little too sure of himself, when he is given the task of watching over the homing pigeon that has been assigned to the op and is rude to the kind dismal pigeoneer named Dirty Bert. Kak is in for a reality check, however, when he experiences his first of many frightening flights and finds the outcast pigeoneer as one of the only friends who seems to understand him and his fears.
B FOR BUSTER is a dramatic adventure set during one of the greatest times in history. I recommend this book to anyone who has studied World War II and would like to read fiction set during that time period, as well as to those who enjoy reading dramatic novels. I thought it captured the importance of animals, specifically homing pigeons, and the various roles they take during wartime very well. Told through the eyes of a sixteen-year-old boy, B FOR BUSTER shows readers the excitement of being a hero and the grim realities they face.
--- Reviewed by Sarah Sawtelle (SdarksideG@aol.com)
I really enjoyed this book. Although it is fiction, I think it accurately portrays the feelings and experiences of bomber crews during World War II. The book is filled with action and suspense and I didn't want to stop reading. If you like books about World War II, this is a book for you. I give it a five star rating.