The book introduces us to 12yo Trevor Firestone from Malborough, Connecticut. Trevor is a WWII fanatic; he loves WWII video games, movies, posters, toys, and aircraft models. This interest is due to the stories his 93yo great-grandfather, Jacob Firestone, tells him about his time serving as an infantryman during the war. Trevor adores his G.G. (as he calls him) and relishes his stories of battle, heroism, and camaraderie. When G.G. is invited to be the guest of honor in a French village he helped to liberate in 1944, Trevor convinces his dad, Daniel, to let him come along for the trip.
This novel is written in two alternating timelines; one following the three generations of Firestone men in their modern-day journey to France, and the other taking place in 1944, following 17yo Jacob from his home in Connecticut to his basic training at Fort Benning, GA, over the ocean to England, crossing the English Channel and the events of D-Day, and then his company's journey across the French countryside pushing back and battling Nazi forces.
And one of the things I LOVE about this story is that the three Firestone men don't just travel straight to France; they visit Fort Benning and London and Omaha Beach. They drive through challenging hedgerows of the French countryside to get to Paris and nearby small French villages, some of which were completely destroyed in the war, and some that survived. And all along, Jacob is telling his stories, recognizing the smallest details in the countryside, remembering where his brothers in service fell, and gradually, Trevor and his dad notice the physical and emotional toll the memories are taking on their beloved G.G.
Not only that, but not everyone is happy that Jacob Firestone is coming back to Sainte-Régine, the small French village the Americans helped liberate from the Germans in 1944. Daniel notices some malignant comments directed towards Jacob on the village's Facebook page. Someone leaves a dead bird on their rental car, slashes their tires, and throws a rock into their hotel window once they reach the village. Why doesn't everyone believe Jacob Firestone is a hero? What is G.G. not telling his grandson and great-grandson about his time in France?
In an effort to stay spoiler-free, that is all you will get from me regarding the plot of this story. I will, however, say a few more words about the themes and characters of this book that I really, really love:
The relationship between Trevor and his great-grandfather. Unlike a lot of kids would, Trevor does not take for granted how lucky he is to be able to know his veteran great-grandfather and to be able to learn so much from him. They are truly best friends.
Trevor's father, Daniel, worries that G.G.'s war stories glorify war too much for Trevor - he is constantly reminding his son that war and its consequences, while sometimes necessary, are destructive and harmful to both sides, no matter who wins in the end.
Loss of life, particularly within a soldier's band of brothers, is heavy and heartbreaking and something awful that these boys carried with them for the rest of their lives. I don't know that I've ever read another middle-grade novel that deals with these situations in such a upfront and profound way as this book does.
War is complicated. Friendly fire kills people it shouldn't. War heroes didn't always do heroic things. The effects of war, good AND bad, are felt for many generations after the fact and the trauma remains in families for decades.
Overall, this is a great book for adults to read WITH kids. I certainly learned a lot, not only about the war itself, but it made me think about WHO writes the history and HOW that influences us to think certain things about historical events. Send me an email and let me know what you think of the book if you and/or the kids in your life end up reading it!
@2020 Emily Kowalski Schroeder