Battle Fatigue


Growing up in the years following World War II, Joel Bloom and his friends dreamed of either fighting in the military or leading the Dodgers to the World Series. But when Joel turns eighteen, the Vietnam War is in full swing, and the sides of war he learned about as a child are not nearly as clear. Old enough to be drafted, Joel loves his country but knows he cannot fight in an unjust war. After trying and failing to be a Conscientious Objector, he must decide whether to serve in Vietnam or leave for Canada-a ...

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Growing up in the years following World War II, Joel Bloom and his friends dreamed of either fighting in the military or leading the Dodgers to the World Series. But when Joel turns eighteen, the Vietnam War is in full swing, and the sides of war he learned about as a child are not nearly as clear. Old enough to be drafted, Joel loves his country but knows he cannot fight in an unjust war. After trying and failing to be a Conscientious Objector, he must decide whether to serve in Vietnam or leave for Canada-a decision that would help him avoid the violence of war but force him to leave behind those he loves and turn his back on everything he was brought up to believe. In an insightful and compelling novel from bestselling nonfiction writer Mark Kurlansky comes an exploration of one teen's struggle to understand himself amid the harsh realities of life during wartime.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Kurlansky shifts gears—not entirely successfully—from nonfiction (Salt) and adult literature (Boogaloo on Second Avenue) to YA fiction. Joel Bloom, a Jewish boy in post-WWII Massachusetts, grows up playing war games and cheering on the Brooklyn Dodgers. As the book follows him from age seven into adulthood, his interest in baseball never wanes, but he slowly starts to realize that he’s opposed to the growing Vietnam conflict that is consuming his generation. His moral evolution is affected by his teachers in high school and college, news reports, and stories from older friends who have joined the military, but it’s his college girlfriend, Rachel, who draws Joel fully into the antiwar movement. Kurlansky uses an uneasy mix of diary entries and first-person, present-tense flashbacks, which are largely indistinguishable from each other, to create a disaffected narrative voice that warps through the years and events of Joel’s life; the occasional bit of poetic pretentiousness—“Bobby Kennedy’s death was the final death of wounded hope”—offers some variety. Likewise, the rushed ending feels anticlimactic and robs the book of genuine pathos. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)
VOYA - Meghann Meeusen
Joel Bloom spends his childhood trying to understand the troubling and confusing concept of war. As a young boy, he plays games reenacting battles fought by his World War II veteran father and uncle, but questions how a person or country decides to fight for a cause. This uncertainty continues as he grows up during the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. He knows that war will define his life just as it did for those in his father's generation, but soon realizes that battle lines are far less clear when the war is his own. When his effort to avoid the draft as a Conscientious Objector fails, Joel must decide how to stand up for what he believes and come to grips with the consequences of doing so. Battle Fatigue follows the moving story of a boy who loves baseball and seeks what it means to be American in a time of drastic change. Filled with metaphor and, at times, heart-wrenching poignancy, the text reveals much about the complexity of war and social action. Although the first person narrative style may draw young people to Joel's internal battles, teen readers might struggle to connect with the story's occasionally heavy-handed reflections or Joel's initially childlike voice expressing bewilderment at adult politics. Nonetheless, in following Joel's journey from child to adult, readers can learn a great deal about the profound impact of war and how the battles, even if they are internal, can be life altering. Reviewer: Meghann Meeusen
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Joel Bloom grows up in the shadow of World War II, his father, uncle, and neighbors having served their country proudly. The idea of war is entrenched in his boyhood experiences and those of his friends, and they spend much of their time playing at war, choosing sides in stereotypical portrayals of Nazis and Japanese. They grow up knowing they will fight "their war." Yet, when he turns 18 and it comes along, Joel finds himself unable to fight. He defers being drafted by entering college, where he participates in antiwar demonstrations. After graduation, he takes a stand as a conscientious objector, but the government denies him that option. Now he must decide whether he will do what others expect him to do or follow his own moral code and head to Canada. Joel narrates this coming-of-age story that shows his gradual development. The novel fulfills an important role for teens who may not know about the personal side of men who escaped the Vietnam War by leaving the country, and the reasons they did so. However, while the characters are believable, they are underdeveloped. Also, the pace is too slow, and the ending is anticlimactic.—Wendy Scalfaro, G. Ray Bodley High School, Fulton, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802722645
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 10/25/2011
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,435,504
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Kurlansky

MARK KURLAN SKY is the bestselling author of Salt: A World History and Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World for adult readers, as well as their adaptations for children, The Story of Salt and A Cod's Tale. This is his first novel for teens.


Blessed with extraordinary narrative skills, journalist and bestselling author Mark Kurlansky is one of a burgeoning breed of writers who has turned a variety of eclectic, offbeat topics into engaging nonfiction blockbusters.

Kurlansky worked throughout the 1970s and '80s as a foreign correspondent in Europe and Mexico. He spent seven years covering the Caribbean for the Chicago Tribune and transformed the experience into his first book. Published in 1992, A Continent of Islands was described by Kirkus Reviews as "[a] penetrating analysis of the social, political, sexual, and cultural worlds that exist behind the four-color Caribbean travel posters."

Since then, Kurlansky has produced a steady stream of bestselling nonfiction, much of it inspired by his longstanding interest in food and food history. (He has worked as a chef and a pastry maker and has written award-winning articles for several culinary magazines.) Among his most popular food-centric titles are the James Beard Award winner Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World (1997), Salt: A World History (2002), and The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell (2006). All three were adapted into illustrated children's books.

In 2004, Kurlansky cast his net wider with 1968: The Year that Rocked the World, an ambitious, colorful narrative history that sought to link political and cultural revolutions around the world to a single watershed year. While the book itself received mixed reviews, Kurlanski's storytelling skill was universally praised. In 2006, he published the scholarly, provocative critique Nonviolence: Twenty-five Lessons From the History of a Dangerous Idea. It received the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

Despite occasional forays into fiction (the 2000 short story collection The White Man in the Tree and the 2005 novel Boogaloo on 2nd Avenue), Kurlansky's bailiwick remains the sorts of freewheeling colorful, and compulsively readable micro-histories that 21st-century readers cannot get enough of.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, NY
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 7, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Hartford, CT
    1. Education:
      Butler University, B.A. in Theater, 1970

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