Joel and his friends are growing up in the years after WWII. Nearly every "Dad" in town is a war veteran. However, they have little on which to base their pretend war play, since most of these vets aren't talking. Joel says his dad has malaria from the war. But the reader knows those sweats and nightmares aren't caused by any mosquito.
As Joel enters his teen years, the Vietnam conflict is just beginning, and it is interesting to see everyone try to make sense of what is going on. There is a lot of confusion, and of course miscommunication on the part of the government and media, so that no one understands. As Joel graduates from high school and decides to attend college, he must also decide what to do about the draft. Can he really go to war and kill people? Joel sees what has happened to some of his friends who fought in Vietnam, and he doesn't like what they've become.
My father is a WWII veteran. I was a small child when my two brothers got very high draft numbers. I remember the tension in my house during that time. I remember my brothers' friends going to Vietnam. So, reading Battle Fatigue explained a lot of the feelings of that time to me from the perspective as an adult. As a child, I didn't understand much of the politics. I remember my brother saying he'd go to Canada if he got drafted, but I don't know if he really would have. Needless to say, I found Battle Fatigue very relatable.
I love historical fiction, and this story is rich with details of the 1960s and 70s. We go through Kennedy's election and assassination, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Civil Rights movement and King's assassination, Johnson's entry into Vietnam, and Nixon's election. Joel becomes part of the anti-war protests. Joel loves baseball, so famous baseball legends are mentioned throughout the story.
The characters, besides Joel, are not very individualized. I got confused when old friends were mentioned later in the book. I would have to think, "Now, which one was that?" since they all seemed to mesh together.
The setting and Joel's inner dialog and struggle with his decision are what make Battle Fatigue stand out. I would not hesitate to point boys who are interested in this time period to Battle Fatigue. However, this isn't a book with a lot of action or war scenes. It's about the inner struggle of one teen boy who has to make a very difficult decision. Battle Fatigue is quick and easy to read, but would only appeal to a certain niche of teen readers.
Published by Walker Childrens, 2011
Copy obtained from the library
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