Jukebooks: The War Novels of Walter Dean Myers

As you may already know, the world lost a literary hero on July 1 with the passing of Walter Dean Myers, winner of the very first Printz Award, as well as so many other awards and honors.

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers is one of the most powerful, gut-wrenching novels on war ever written for a young adult audience. Since its publication in 1988, readers have vicariously lived the harrowing experiences of Richie, a bookish high school graduate from Harlem, in the jungles of Vietnam. The story portrays not only the dangers of deadly warfare in a foreign environment but also the incompetence and racism of commanders. It has been challenged many times because of its realistic use of language and violence.

There are many great protest songs from the Vietnam Era, but the one I chose to accompany Fallen Angels is “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. The lyrics speak for the thousands of young men who, like Richie, were thrust into this nightmarish war.

Yeah, some folks inherit star spangled eyes
Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord
And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”
Oh, they only answer, more, more, more, oh

Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean MyersTwenty years later, Myers returns to war with Sunrise Over Fallujah, which follows Richie’s nephew, “Birdy’, through his service during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Birdy’s unit is part of the Civilian Affairs team, charged with helping people living in a war zone. Working closely with Iraqis is both dangerous and enlightening, as Birdy struggles to understand how they are meant to help. Again, Myers does not shy away from the harsh realities of IEDs, tribal warfare, and rape. Like its predecessor a generation earlier, Sunrise Over Fallujah also faced many challenges over content.

In the book, Birdy’s closest friend is Jonesy, a blues guitarist with the ambition of opening a blues club after the war. Jonesy’s outlook on the world is filtered through his immersion in the blues, as when he says about Saddam Hussein: “…Saddam got a tune in his head and he wants to play it real bad. And when it don’t go right he just play it louder. A lot of dudes do that. They call it music, but it could just be war.” (p15)  Continue reading Jukebooks: The War Novels of Walter Dean Myers