Author: Dean Hughes. Release date: 2001. Publisher: Simon Pulse. ISBN: 9780689860218.
Plot summary: During the second world war, two farm boys, one from Utah the other from Germany, decide to the join the fight for their respective countries. Sixteen-year-old Spencer Morgan, a Mormon from Brigham City, Utah, drops out of school and trains to become a paratrooper, hoping to prove himself to his family and friends. Fifteen-year-old Dieter Hedrick is initially involved with the Hitler Youth, and his blind devotion to the dictator leads him to insist upon being sent into combat. Both Spencer and Dieter are enthusiastic about fighting for their country, not truly understanding the implications of war. Spencer’s eyes are opened when his best friend is killed, and an older soldier named Schaefer helps Dieter to see that murdering the enemy is nothing to revel in. Spencer and Dieter eventually meet during the Battle of the Bulge, and what happens proves that, even though they are enemies, soldiers in war have far more in common than they realize.
Review: This gripping novel tells the stories of two teenage boys fighting on opposite sides in WWII, who come to realize that a person’s humanity should never be lost in the ravages of war. Full of historical information and references, readers will learn a great deal about both sides of WWII in Soldier Boys, particularly the Hitler Youth program, the Battle of the Bulge, and the horrors of combat on the front. Both Spencer and Dieter are engaging characters who bring a unique voice to the events in the story. The relationship between Dieter and Schaefer is, at times, very touching, with the older soldier having a fatherly impact on fifteen-year-old Dieter. The conclusion of the novel is heart breaking, but also helps to drive home the point the novel ultimately presents: the terrible tragedy that is war itself. Tweens are certain to enjoy this novel, especially boys who are close in age to the main characters.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Reading level: Grades 6-9
Similar titles: A Boy at War: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Harry Mazer, Heroes Don’t Run: A Novel of the Pacific War by Harry Mazer, Search and Destroy by Dean Hughes, Missing in Action by Dean Hughes.
Personal thoughts: I enjoyed this book, but also found it difficult to get through at times. The tragedy that is war is a common theme throughout the story and I couldn’t help but think of all the young men and women currently fighting in wars overseas who are likely experiencing situations similar to the characters in the novel. This made the story very sad for me, but I do hope that tween readers pick up on these concepts as well. Despite this overwhelming feeling of sadness, however, I found the novel to be very well written and an ideal pick for reluctant tween boys who don’t want to read anything “girlie.”
Themes: War, World War 2, death.
Awards/Reviews: New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age list, positive reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.
Series Information: N/A
Spencer Morgan – Sixteen-year-old Mormon boy from Brigham City, Utah. He drops out of school to become a paratrooper for the US military in hopes of defending his country during WW2.
Dieter Hedrick – Fifteen-year-old German soldier and former member of the Hitler Youth program. He is very dedicated to Hitler and cannot wait to begin fighting on the front.
Schaefer – An older soldier who befriends Dieter. He is weary of war and convinces Dieter that killing the enemy is not something to celebrate.
Ted Draney – Fellow paratrooper and friend of Spencer’s.
Annotation: War is supposed to tear two sides apart, but American soldier Spencer and German soldier Dieter find that, even though they are enemies, they have more in common than they realize.