Monday, November 7, 2011

Soldier Boys by Dean Hughes

Published May 1, 2003.

At the age of fifteen, Dieter's blind devotion gets him promoted from Hitler Youth into the German army. Dieter's determined to prove his allegiance and bravery at all costs.

Spence, just sixteen, drops out of his Utah high school to begin training as a paratrooper. He's seen how boys who weren't much in high school can come home heroes, and Spence wants to prove to his friends and family that he really can be something.

Their worst fear was that the war would end too soon - that they wouldn't get the chance to prove themselves. But when they finally see the action they were hoping for, it's like nothing they could have ever imagined. (book back blurb)

I have a super soft spot for historical fiction taking place in the European Theater of World War II. It doesn't take much for me to grab a title with even a hint of that topic in the blurb. And since Band of Brothers is one of my all time favorite shows, it really isn't surprising that I picked up a book about a paratrooper.

The only real qualm I had with SOLDIER BOYS was that it ganked a scene from Band of Brothers. See, when you know the show as well as I do, I can pick out nuances like that. So when Spence and his buddy get a spaghetti dinner on their day off only to have the tablecloth yanked out from under them and have to drill on a full stomach, puking all the way, my brain's going to go to episode 1, Currahee, of Band of Brothers. So I was kind of watered down bythat. Yeah, it's a good scene. In Band of Brothers. It just felt cheap seeing it somewhere else.

But other than that, the voices of both Spence and Dieter were immensely engaging. Spence is a bit of a podunk, high school drop out that, at the heart of his being, just wants to impress a girl. He keeps telling himself, even after getting word of her engagement, that what he's done wasn't for her but, well, the very fact that he kept mentioning her kind of speaks volumes. But I wasn't as engaged with Spence as I was with Dieter. Spence was a little cookie cutter for me. Not too much change going on. I liked his realism. His rationalizing basic training, considering quitting. It showed his weakness but he persevered.

Dieter, on the other hand, was static for most of the book, and ingratiatingly so. To the point where I wanted to put my hand into the book and slap the boy around. Hughes really nailed it home just how indoctrinated the HJ (Hitler Jugen/Hitler Youth) were. Dieter was unwavering until that earth shattering moment at the end of the book that completely rocked his world. I didn't get a sense of such a dramatic change in Spence as I did in Dieter, probably because Dieter was so unwavering in his beliefs. Spence rocked his own boat a little bit. He was never as steadfast in what he believed so when his tide turned, it was a little more expected. With Dieter, it was like getting hit by a truck.

I really liked the dual POVs because it's not too often that we get a story told from an Axis point of view. Hughes digs deep into the life of Dieter, makes him pop out on the page. Spence was easy and that kind of showed. His life was nonchalant for me. But Dieter's mindset must have been exceptionally hard to get into. Brainwashing is a mighty thing and the Nazis were phenomenal at it. That and the way they made people fear them. Hughes didn't hide that. The Nazis performed some serious atrocities right in front of Dieter and while it shook him, he never faltered. He still thought the same way. That's hardcore indoctrination right there.

SOLDIER BOYS is a good look into the lives of two World War II soldiers on different sides of the line. It's not like about the war but about life, about not just seeing an enemy but seeing another person doing the exact same thing you're doing on the other side of the field. It's about that realization that they're really not that different, not really. Hughes did a great job of diving into the psychology of war a little bit. If you're as interested in World War II history as I am, you'll want to pick up SOLDIER BOYS. Just beware of the Band of Brothers scene. That might throw you off a little bit if you're a fan. Otherwise, you'll sink right back in and get sucked into the story.

Ban Factor: Medium - It's a book about war so that alone to rankle their ass chaps but it's pretty tame when it comes to war books so it could very well fly under their radar. Very minor swearing and some up front horrors of war but nothing major.
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