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)
The true cost of war comes back to haunt a family as a teenage football star faces his veteran brother’s slow self-destruction. Shane Dupree used to idolize his older brother, Jeremy, but Jeremy has become a paranoid, alcoholic mess ever since he returned from his deployment, suffering from PTSD, nightmares, and more. When Jeremy asks Shane to join him on a trip to the family’s hunting cabin, it seems like a chance to bond and talk sense into his older brother. Instead, they embark on an impromptu canoe trip down the Shenandoah River, with Jeremy getting progressively more reckless as the full scope of his trauma is gradually revealed. Watkins (Juvie) delivers a powerful, emotionally raw tale, heartbreaking in its portrayal of damaged veterans, the price some pay to serve, and the toll it takes on their friends and family. It’s also a raw coming-of-age journey for Shane as he struggles with his own feelings, especially toward “the Colonel,” the brothers’ emotionally abusive, micromanaging, ex-military stepfather. Ages 14–up. Agent: Kelly Sonnack, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Apr.)
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
Shane’s brother, Jeremy, is a Marine just back from three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, Jeremy saved himself and a private from grueling gunfire when they were separated from their unit. When Jeremy returns, his behavior is erratic, though his family makes the excuse of an adjustment period. Instead of living with his wife and two daughters, Jeremy lives in the basement of his childhood home. Some things about Jeremy are certain: he’s constantly on edge, is always drinking or drunk, and is usually cleaning his 9mm or M16. When Shane suffers a likely concussion on the football field and scores for the other team, he takes Jeremy up on an offer to get away, resulting in a brief stay at their stepfather’s cabin, where Jeremy is gored by a wild pig. What follows is a canoe trip up the Shenandoah River to Harper’s Ferry that ends tragically at Great Falls. Jeremy’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is apparent and manifests through his short fuse, nightmares, jittery anxiety, trouble sleeping, and fits of violence. Jeremy doesn’t know how to ask for help, and his family isn’t equipped to look for the signs. This stirring untold story sheds light on issues that those in the military face. The gritty language underlies the young men’s continuous struggles. VERDICT Watkins portrays family life with a returning veteran with PTSD in a way that will appeal to reluctant readers, especially those who like war or adventure stories.–Adrienne L. Strock, Nashville Public Library
Shane’s older brother, Jeremy, is never still. After tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, he suffers from PTSD and is always vigilant, looking for enemies that aren’t there, while compulsively cleaning his M16 rifle. Following a misadventure at a football game (long story), the two brothers—at Jeremy’s direction—find themselves in a canoe on the north fork of the Shenandoah River, with Shane missing school, and Jeremy confronting an unauthorized absence from a military training mission. Shane knows they are in big trouble, but he has always obeyed his older brother, and now is no different. Then Jeremy makes several irredeemable mistakes, and suddenly all bets are off and the Great Falls are looming. Watkins’ treatment of the troubled Jeremy is unsparingly honest yet deeply compassionate, and his fast-paced, suspenseful story is a searing indictment of war and its impact on those who are trying to do a job in the face of unforgiving tragedy. In the end, Jeremy’s quoting from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness sums it up well: “The horror. The horror.” — Michael Cart
Thank you for making these books. I am doing a book report on your book GHOSTS OF WAR AWOL in NORTH AFRICA CANT WAIT FOR MORE BOOKS. PS YOUR BOOKS ARE AWESOME.
Thanks, Dean. Hope that book report goes well and scores an A. There are three more of the Ghosts of War books out, and my newest book, SINK OR SWIM, is coming out this fall, too, though it’s not part of the series. I think you’ll like it, too, though, if you like the GofW books. Have a great school year. And keep up the good reading!