Twelve-year-old Jamie and her older brother TJ have grown up living, breathing, and loving the army as children of the Colonel, as they call their father, so when TJ enlists and is sent to Vietnam, Jamie is thrilled for him. Not only is she thrilled, she is also a little jealous (she would enlist in a heartbeat if she could) and cannot wait to hear all the exciting combat stories TJ will have to tell. When TJ’s first letter arrives, she disappointed. Instead of exciting stories he sends her a roll of film and her parents a boring letter about pretty nurses and bad food. Jamie still decides to develop the film herself at the rec center where she volunteers. It is Sgt. Byrd, who has already returned from Vietnam, who teaches her how the process of developing and begins to give her a bit of insight into the horrors of Vietnam. Sgt. Byrd, TJ’s pictures, Private Hollister (her rummy partner at the rec center), and many of the other soldiers whose paths Jamie crosses that slowly start to change her mind about what exactly war means.
Reaction: This little book packs a huge punch. My summary couldn’t fit all of the actions and emotions involved in its scant 163 pages. For example, the Colonel doesn’t want TJ to go to Vietnam and this is very puzzling to Jamie since all she’s ever heard from him is about the honor of doing one’s duty and sacrificing for the good of the country. Jamie’s transformation is slow and believable. I think she is just at the point (12 going on 13) where she can really begin to see that the world isn’t black and white or right and wrong, that there are shades of gray, and war, specifically the Vietnam war, is one of those fuzzy areas. I really liked Jamie’s relationships with Private Hollister, who I believe probably had the most profound effect on her, Sgt. Byrd, and Cindy, her not-all-there younger next door neighbor who also has a brother in Vietnam. Her connections with these people were so real and so important. Finally, photography was huge. I don’t think Jamie really understood the horrors of war until she realized that there were pictures of TJ’s that she would never show her mother or even the Colonel, things that were just too sad and too gruesome. The photography embodied her transformation and her connection to her brother, who even so far away was teaching her and reaching out to her. This is another one that I probably never would have picked up if it hadn’t been for my booktalks but I am very, very glad I did.