Saturday, January 18, 2014

No Surrender Soldier (review)



4/5 stars

No Surrender Soldier (Goodreads | Amazon) was a surprising book.  Not because it doesn't match the description, but because I felt like it flew under the radar despite being really solidly good.  That might be because it doesn't fit into one of the popular niches, it's a historical YA (but not as far in the past as historical YA usually is) that reads like a contemporary.

Even though it's set in 1972 Guam, Kiko's problems feel like those of a modern teen.  He worries about keeping his family's shop afloat, his first kiss and his grandfather's worsening alzheimer's disease.  Then his older brother goes missing in Vietnam and Kiko's grandfather, in an Alzheimer's episode, attacks a Japanese man and accuses him of raping his daughter.  That's when Kiko realizes what happened to his mother and their community during the occupation during WWII.  Kiko is being forced to grow up quickly and grapple with what it means to be a man and his new responsibilities with his family.

At the same time all of this is happening, Kiko discovers a straggler, a Japanese soldier who never surrendered after WWII, living in the forest behind his house.  The book alternates between the straggler, an old man who is struggling to survive in the woods, and Kiko who is dealing with what the Japanese did to his mother and what may be happening to his brother in Vietnam.

Normally historical young adult books dive further into the past and don't deal with nuances like No Surrender Soldier does.  This is a classic coming of age story, only set on Guam in 1972.  It's not a setting or a time-frame the YA audience is used to, which is why I'm so glad that this book was written.   The story of the Japanese straggler was based on a real life straggler who survived on the island for 29 years (and oddly just died this week). These two stories come together in a way that is really interesting and doesn't feel contrived at all.

This book, the setting, the way the story was handled, the real life history it was based on, impressed me.  It gives you a sliver of a piece of history without feeling like it's trying to be educational and gave me a book I didn't even realize I was looking for.

I received an advanced reading e-book in exchange for an honest review.


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