--------------------------A coming-of-age tale for young adults set in the trenches of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, this is the story of Perry, a Harlem teenager who volunteers for the service when his dream of attending college falls through. Sent to the front lines, Perry and his platoon come face-to-face with the Vietcong and the real horror of warfare. But violence and death aren't the only hardships. As Perry struggles to find virtue in himself and his comrades, he questions why black troops are given the most dangerous assignments, and why the U.S. is there at all.
Q&A with Walter Dean Myers
1. War is a difficult subject for many families to discuss. Do you have any advice for parents on how to talk to their children about the harsh realities of war?
What parents need to share with their children is that there are experiences in life that we all find difficult to share, and this is especially true with war. War is an experience in which we have both collective and individual reactions, and sometimes those reactions conflict. People don’t want to admit to being afraid when they thought they should have been courageous, or of being glad that they survived an action that killed their friends. One of the most difficult events in war is to view the lifeless body of someone who has been a close buddy. What we want to shut out, what we find impossible at times to talk about, is that even as we view the body and are sorrowful at the death that has just happened, we are also thankful that it was not us who was killed.
2. As someone who writes regularly about war, how do you think books can help YA readers develop a better understanding of combat-related situations and issues they might never encounter in their own lives?
Although we may never engage in actual combat, we are all engaged in the thinking and attitudes that might send others into a war zone. Students who read Fallen Angels when it first came out helped make the decisions that sent American soldiers into Iraq. An understanding of what war is actually about, the brutality that is visited on all participants, should help us to make wise decisions in the future.
3. What key message(s) about war do you hope your readers will take with them when they read FALLEN ANGELS?
A woman I met at a book signing gave me the best answer to this question. Her high school senior son, swept up by the promises of ‘shock and awe’ as we approached our adventure in Iraq, wanted to drop out of high school and join the Army immediately. She convinced him, with great difficulty, to at least wait until he finished high school. In the interim he read every book about war he could find. When he came to FALLEN ANGELS and saw how war felt on a personal level, he changed his mind about joining. She thanked me with tears in her eyes.
4. Veteran’s Day is a day on which the nation celebrates our military heroes. What do you think is the best way for civilians to honor and celebrate U.S. veterans every day?
The first thing we need to do is to try to understand how war changes people. The sanctity and respect for life that we take for granted is altered in a combat zone as soldiers often find themselves merely trying to survive. The second thing I would love to see is public acknowledgement that veterans exist and have done a service to the nation and to the American public. This could be done by offering free admission to Veterans to public institutions such as museums, national parks, and buildings. Every public institution should have a sign saying ‘Admission is free to the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces of this Country.’