On May 10, 1940, the Nazis begin their march across Europe, and within weeks, France has fallen. At first, Nicolette’s world seems more or less the same despite the occupation. She and her best friend, Jules, still spend their days after school racing around Paris on their bikes and their evenings rushing through homework when they’d rather be riding. But as the months pass, the Third Reich tightens its hold on France, and it becomes clear just what is at stake. Nicolette and Jules are drawn into a growing resistance movement, determined to do their part to fight back. It’s a deadly secret they’ll have to keep from everyone, including their families. Nicolette’s own father works for local law enforcement, which is now under Nazi control, and who knows what might happen if anyone found out she joined the Resistance.

But as Hitler’s empire grows, no one can escape the horrors of war. Including Nicolette. One night, she vanishes without a trace, taken from the street by Nazi soldiers and declared an enemy of the state. Soon, Nicolette finds herself confronting the very heart of Hitler’s plans, bearing witness not just to the atrocities, but also to the courage, bravery, and hope that can emerge in even the darkest times. And it is in these small but powerful moments that Nicolette realizes her greatest weapon against the Nazis: to live, so she can tell the world the truth of what happened. But can one girl survive what was designed to destroy so many?



Taylor Sorenson thinks he’s a cool teenager, albeit with a huge sense of animosity toward his father, who is stationed in the U. S. Embassy in Vietnam during the 1960s. When his mom decides they should surprise Dad with a birthday celebration by joining him in Vietnam, Taylor is against the trip and the so-called celebration. His Dad tries to explain to Taylor why it’s important he be present in Vietnam, but Taylor dismisses everything his father says. Being a typical teenager, he doesn’t have a clue about the origins, steps and consequences of this long Vietnamese conflict.

Taylor’s life, however, is about to undergo a dramatic change, more outrageous than any teen or adult could imagine. He decides to skip an embassy party and join the Tet celebrations in Saigon, and therein his hell begins. All of a sudden, shooting and dead bodies with mind-numbing chaos reign supreme, and Taylor is kidnapped by North Vietnamese soldiers disguised as South Vietnamese Army troops. He is then forced to begin a journey on the Ho Chi Min Trail, from South Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia, to North Vietnam. The North Vietnamese Army now realize Taylor’s importance because of his father’s status. A female NVA treats Taylor more nicely than the other prisoners and yet manifests a cold, hard exterior that is obviously both the result of propaganda and watching or hearing of her people’s ignominy by many nations for generations. Taylor matures from historical reality. Readers will have to decide whether he does or doesn’t later understand his father or this “crazy” war about which so many have such strong opinions on opposing sides. Remarkable historical fiction—highly recommended! –Viviane Crystal



The experiences of a 12-year-old in the Battle of the Atlantic are chronicled in this engrossing historical novel.

When a surfacing U-boat destroys their fishing boat and severely injures his older brother, Danny, off the North Carolina coast, Colton assumes his older brother’s identity and enlists in the U.S. Navy. After surviving the brutal trials of boot camp, Colton is assigned to a patrol craft, designed primarily for anti-submarine warfare. Colton’s ship first patrols American coastal waters looking for U-boats preying on merchant vessels, then is assigned to escort convoys traversing the North Atlantic. Operating in intensely adverse weather conditions, Colton’s ship battles “wolf packs” of several U-boats attacking convoys. In one action, the patrol craft is rammed and sunk by a U-boat. Colton’s closest shipmate is killed, and the surviving crew remain at sea in a lifeboat until rescued. A leg wound lands Colton in a hospital stateside and gains him an ensuing discharge from the Navy. The narrative is full of action but short on character development. If the idea of a 12-year-old enlisting in the Navy seems blatantly implausible, there is historical precedent. In an afterword, Watkins explains that his inspiration for the novel is the real-life experience of 12-year-old Calvin Graham, who enlisted in the Navy and served in the Pacific theater.

A briskly paced, action-packed, surprisingly realistic war story.



Two brothers try to flee their demons on a canoe trip. Seventeen-year-old, 6-foot, 210-pound linebacker Shane Dupree is a high school football star waiting for a sports scholarship. His older brother, Jeremy, was just as celebrated: he had ace football skills, was the valedictorian of his class, and is beloved by everyone in their community. Jeremy has other accolades too, including a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, and after three deployments in Iraq, he’s back home with his family. Jeremy came home with more than medals, however. He carries and cleans his 9mm wherever he goes. He sleeps in the basement of his parents’ house, away from his wife and daughters. He is clearly suffering, and things take a turn for the worse when he enlists a concussed Shane for a frightening camping excursion with a canoe, a deadly assault rifle, and plenty of beer and whiskey. Watkins’ latest rings with the truth of the plight of veterans who’ve struggled to return to their daily lives after having witnessed what no doubt is sheer horror. Shane’s present-tense narration is fast-paced, full of blunt, uncompromising, sometimes-shocking cruelty. Readers can’t help noticing how Watkins plays Shane’s football prowess against Jeremy’s war stories. Both are battered warriors making sense of what they’ve been taught to do. A gripping, moving, disturbing tale of homecoming. (Fiction. 14-18)



“In the basement of his family’s junk shop, Anderson and his friends Greg and Julie discover a trunk full of old military stuff, including a battered navy peacoat from World War II with a mysterious letter in the pocket. Curious, Anderson takes both home. Only that’s not all he brings home . . . Later that night, the owner of the coat and letter appears in Anderson’s room – the ghost of a World War II sailor. But who is the ghost and why hasn’t he crossed over? And what does he want with Anderson? Soon Anderson, Julie, and Greg are wrapped up in a mystery that’s over seventy years old. Can the friends figure out what happened to the ghost before it’s too late?” That’s how Scholastic summarized the first Ghosts of War, The Secret of Midway. Three more follow in the series: Lost at Khe Sanh, about the Vietnam War, AWOL in North Africa, about the start of the U.S. involvement in the Second World War, and Fallen in Fredericksburg, about one of the most important battles in the Civil War.



Sadie’s the good sister: taking care of her mentally ill, shut-in father; raising her party-girl sister Carla’s 3-year-old daughter, Lulu; making good grades; and playing basketball in hopes of a scholarship that will get her out of her crummy Virginia town. One night, while Sadie tries to keep Carla out of trouble, the two of them are caught in a sting. Carla’s on probation for shoplifting and possession, so Sadie agrees to take the fall, thinking she’ll get off with some community-service hours. But she’s caught before a hanging judge in the mood to make an example of drug-dealing minors, and the next thing she knows, she’s spending six months in juvie. Neither the guards nor the inmates in juvenile detention are interested in rehabilitation. Demeaned and degraded, her schooling reduced to pointless GED-prep workbooks from apathetic teachers, barred from the simple comfort of human contact, Sadie doesn’t see how she can return to her outward-bound trajectory when her six months are over. She wants to make friends, to avoid trouble and to protect those weaker than her, but none of that is as simple as it seems. In the midst of the terrible reality, realistically tiny glimmers of hope shine like candles fighting the darkness.


“WHAT COMES AFTER is a powerful and heartwrenching YA contemporary read. Watkins slips effortlessly into Iris’ voice and gives us a gorgeously told story about both the extreme cruelty and the endurance of human nature….WHAT COMES AFTER is arguably one of the strongest contemporary reads I’ve had the pleasure of discovering this year so far.” From Steph Su Reads.

GIRLS OF SUMMER has selected WHAT COMES AFTER as one of its featured books. Recommended summer reading about and for strong girls and young women.


Abandoned first by her abusive mother and then by her father when he dies, 16-year-old Iris Wight is no stranger to loss. Family friends initially agree to care for her, but problems soon force Iris to leave her home in Maine to live with relatives in North Carolina. Life with her angry aunt and dangerous cousin quickly proves more than she can handle. Before Iris’s arrival, her aunt’s abusive behavior was focused on the farm animals, but as Iris begins to protest the inhumane treatment of the goats, her aunt’s cruelty shifts toward her. The violence culminates in a horrific beating that lands Iris in the hospital and her aunt and cousin in jail, leaving Iris to navigate yet another change. She must learn to wade through the foster-care system and deal with animosity at school while trying to find a way to care for her beloved goats left back at the farm. While never gratuitous, violence is pervasive; difficult scenes include one that graphically describes a goat being bludgeoned to death, which may prove to be a turn-off for some readers. Watkins displays his expertise as he creates a heroine who is broken and yet refuses to stay down. Secondary characters are equally well-developed and engaging. Beautifully written, this story is an unflinching look at the cruelty of life as well as the resilience of the human spirit. (Fiction. 14 & up)


2009 Winner, Golden Kite Award for Fiction

Back in March 2009, The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators named my novel DOWN SAND MOUNTAIN the winner of the Golden Kite Award for Young Adult Fiction. Claire, Lili, Janet and I flew out to L.A. in August for the SCBWI conference and awards ceremony. Had breakfast with Tim Roth. Did a book signing with Henry Winkler, sort of (we were both in the same room with a couple of dozen other writers). Toured the Getty with that actress who plays Meadow Soprano (well, might have seen her). Flew back to D.C. with that guy who plays the lead on “Lost.” They were all exceedingly jealous of my Golden Kite Award, which is a bronze casting of a little guy flying a kite. It’s possible that they thought I won an award for kite flying. It was a nice follow-up to the New England Independent Booksellers Association’s selection of DOWN SAND MOUNTAIN as one of the top 10 Young Adult books of the year. Click here to see my talk at the Golden Kite Award ceremony.

BOOKLIST (Starred Review)

In 1966, a white kid discovers the cruelty in his small, segregated Florida mining town, where :everybody knew everybody else, unless they were colored,: and racism is the norm, in himself, too. All Dewey, 12, wants is to fit in and have people like him, but that gets even harder after he stains his face with black shoe polish to dance in the local minstrel show, and the white bullies choose him as a target. Then his father, a miner, runs for city council again, even though he always loses because he wants to improve the blacks’ neighborhood, where Dewey hates going. In his debut YA novel, award-winning adult author Watkins tells a classic loss-of-innocence story. The simple, beautiful prose remains totally true to the child’s bewildered viewpoint, which is comic when Dewey does not get the big picture (“you never knew what was really going on”), anguished when he finally sees the truth. The plot includes Dewey’s secret romance with his classmate and the sweet revenge on the bullies, and the daily detail about small things. Multiple local characters sometimes bogs the story. Still, there is neither too much nostalgia nor message, and readers will be haunted by the disturbing drama of harsh secrets close to home.

THE BLACK OK: Racism and Redemption in an American Corporate Empire

University of Georgia Press

Winner of the Virginia College Stores Award for Best Book by a Virginia Author

Finalist for the Lillian Smith Nonfiction Book Award

Honorable Mention for the Gustavus Myers Book Award

From the University of Georgia Press:

“In 1988 several white managers of the Shoney’s restaurant chain protested against the company’s discriminatory hiring practices, including an order to blacken the ‘O’ in ‘Shoney’s’ on minorities’ job applications so that the marked forms could be discarded. When the managers refused to comply, they lost their jobs but not their resolve–they sued the company. Their case grew into the largest racial job discrimination class action lawsuit of its time. Shoney’s eventually offered to settle out of court, and the nearly 21,000 claimants divided a $132.5 million settlement, bringing to an abrupt end a landmark case that changed corporate attitudes nationwide.

The Black O is a fascinating, behind-the-scenes story populated with many unforgettable characters, including civil rights lawyer Tommy Warren, the former college football star and convicted felon who took the case; Ray Danner, the ironfisted CEO who developed the Shoney’s concept; and Justice Clarence Thomas, former head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sat idly by for years while complaints mounted against Shoney’s. The Black O speaks to an issue that continues to have great urgency, serving as a stark refutation that the civil rights movement eliminated systemic discrimination from the workplace.”

“A meticulously documented account.” –New York Times

“A startling journalistic effort… An unsettling, fascinating revelation of a truly wretched corporate environment and a rare triumph for the underdog.” –Kirkus Reviews

“Although it is actually a painstakingly researched account of the largest private civil rights case in U. S. history, at times it reads like an old-fashioned detective story.” –Washington Monthly


Southern Methodist University Press

Honorable Mention, Library of Virginia Book Award

Finalist, Paterson Fiction Prize

“Critterworld,” winner of the Pushcart Prize


11 Responses to Books

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  5. rachel engle says:

    Just finished Juvie. It’s a beautifully written book. You left me wanting more! I want to know if Sadie makes it back to ‘the real world’.

  6. swatkins says:

    Thank you, Rachel. Maybe a sequel at some point? I’d be curious to know if YOU think she’ll make it back to, and back in, the outside world. All best.

  7. Claire says:

    People should definitely check out My Chaos Theory! Critter world shows how violent people are to animals, it’s a very interesting and well told short story, I’m proud of you, Dad!

  8. lalo says:

    i have the book ghost of war 1 and 2 and my cousin has 3 and 4

  9. swatkins says:

    That’s great. I hope you and your cousin will share books!

  10. Javan says:

    Your book sink or swim is the best book ever

  11. swatkins says:

    Hey, thanks, Javan. Appreciate the note. Hope all is well in Javanland.

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