Being a book reviewer has significantly broadened my literary horizons. The truth is that I’d never have chosen to read Back Home by Julia Keller (EgmontUSA, $15.99) on my own. Yes, it is a young adult novel, and well, I’m not really a young adult any longer. But that’s
not the reason I’d never have read this book had I not been asked to review it.
The reason is that I don’t like to read about or think about anything having to do with the Iraq War – or any war for that matter. War is not exactly a happy, heart-warming topic.
After I finished the last page of the book this morning, I stared off into space for a good long while. Now that I’ve read Back Home, I cannot imagine myself not having ever read it. It is rare that a book leaves me with this much to think about. And it isn’t that often that I find a book – any book – to be this well written. It is tremendously difficult to write in a simple, easy-to-comprehend style for young readers, while at the same time create insightful depth in a story. But Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Julia Keller does just that. And she does it with a profound honesty that will leave you too, with many thoughts to ponder. As a journalist, Keller wrote a three part series about traumatic brain injuries for the Chicago Tribune. This experience inspired her to write this compelling novel, and I am so glad she did.
The story is told from the point of view of a thirteen-year-old girl named, Rachel. One day, Rachel’s Mom sits her down with her younger sister and brother to tell them that their Dad is returning home from his National Guard duty in Iraq. But he is not the same person he was when he left; he is severely injured. Dad returns back to US only to be hospitalized for a very long time before actually coming home. What follows is a tale of family’s struggles to get through each day as their lives have suddenly been turned upside down, and Dad’s progress is not at all what they’d hoped it would be.
There are so many memorable quotes in Back Home, I wish I could cite them all. Here is how thirteen-year-old, Rachel describes how her family coped with the situation:
“We weren’t separate people anymore. We were all piled together…We were one thing now. This blur: Our family didn’t have the normal lines or spaces any more. One person flowed into the next person, and the next and the next. I guess it sounds like kind of a mess, but it didn’t feel that way. It was the way it had to be, so that we could live. There wasn’t time to worry about each little piece of our family anymore…”
Back Home made me realize that we need to talk about war, to understand the consequences and struggles – rather than sweep them under the rug because they are so unpleasant. Learning about Rachel’s experience as a teenager provides the reader with a poignant, truthful look at how war adversely changes lives forever. Every teenager and adult in America must read this book.
I detest war. But I love this book.
Guest Reviewer Debbie Glade is the author, illustrator and voice talent of the award-winning children’s picture book The Travel Adventures of Lilly P Badilly: Costa Rica, published by Smart Poodle Publishing. She visits South Florida schools with her reading, writing and geography programs. For years, Debbie was a travel writer for luxury cruise lines. She writes parenting articles for various websites and is the Geography Awareness Editor for WanderingEducators.com. She blogs daily at smartpoodlepublishing.com.