I read this book for the Mock Printz Awards. Not being drawn to war as a literary scenario, I would never have read it otherwise, but I'm glad I did. Myers puts a face on the war in Iraq and, through the voice of 18-year-old Birdy and his army cohorts, helps the reader understand how the situation over there is affecting our young men and women. That's an important message for teens and adults alike, and Myers presents it in a way that's readable and personal.
My only criticism of this book is that a lot of people mill around from page to page and at times I had a hard time keeping some of them straight. Superiors came and gave orders and went away; other units joined up with Birdy's and then went their separate ways--probably realistic, but hard to follow at times for this non-military-brained reader. Some of Birdy's cohorts were less finely drawn than others. His closest friend Jonesy was easy to picture, but Marla, despite a distinctive personality and a key role in the book, was harder for me to get a handle on. My image of her kept changing as the book went on.
I'd recommend Sunrise Over Fallujah for anyone who wonders what our troops are actually doing over in Iraq and for teens who are intrigued by a career in the military. I approved it for my nearly 12-year old son, who isn't interested in being a soldier but does have a lot of questions about war. The violence is portrayed realistically, there is death and a near-rape that the protagonist inadvertently interrupts, so it wouldn't be appropriate reading for all 12-year-olds, but for most adults and older teens, it's fairly mild given the scenario. None of the violence is glorified, the main focus being on Birdy's growth as a character, and the way that growth is impacted by the war-torn world around him.
The soundtrack: For the character Jonesy, who said, "You know, the blues is what's real. Everything else is just messing around waiting until you get back to the blues," here's Robert Cray's beautiful Twenty, which says in part:
Standing out here in the desert trying to protect an oil line
I'd really like to do my job but this ain't the country that I had in mind.
They call this a war on terror, I see a lot of civilians dying
Mothers, sons, fathers and daughters, not to mention some friends of mine,
Some friends of mine.
Walter Dean Myers is an African American author who was raised in Harlem until joining the army at age 17. He now lives in New Jersey and has three grown children, one of whom served in the Gulf War.