Boy at War: A Novel of Pearl Harbor

Boy at War: A Novel of Pearl Harbor

4.2 43
by Harry Mazer

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December 7, 1941: A morning like any other, but the events of this day would leave no one untouched.

For Adam, living near Honolulu, this Sunday morning is one he has been looking forward to — fishing with friends, away from the ever-watchful eyes of his father, a navy lieutenant. Then, right before his eyes, Adam watches Japanese planes fly

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December 7, 1941: A morning like any other, but the events of this day would leave no one untouched.

For Adam, living near Honolulu, this Sunday morning is one he has been looking forward to — fishing with friends, away from the ever-watchful eyes of his father, a navy lieutenant. Then, right before his eyes, Adam watches Japanese planes fly overhead and attack the U.S. Navy. All he can think is that it's just like in the movies. But as he sees his father's ship, the Arizona, sink beneath the water, he realizes this isn't make-believe. It's real.
Over the next few days, Adam searches for answers — about his friends, the war, and especially, his father. But Adam soon learns sometimes there are no answers.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A 14-year-old boy, newly arrived in 1941 Hawaii, witnesses the attack on Pearl Harbor. In a starred review, PW said, "Mazer successfully fuses a strong portrayal of Adam's transformation with both a vivid account of the attack and subtle suggestions of the complexities of Japanese-American relations as played out in particular lives." Ages 10-14. (Nov.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Mazer's (The Last Mission) taut adventure adopts the perspective of a 14-year-old newly arrived in Hawaii to capture the chaos surrounding the unexpected attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Adam is fishing near Pearl Harbor when the bombs are dropped. "That sounds so real," he says to himself at the first explosions, not yet believing the planes and noise are not part of a war exercise or maybe a movie. Taken for a navy man, he is thrown into the attempts to save lives. As the attack continues, the resulting confusion is reflected in staccato and impressionistic language: "The water around the once-proud battleship was thick with oil, and it stunk. Smoke and filth. Life rafts, pieces of boats, and men floundered in the watery debris.... A foot, an arm. He saw everything through a red haze. He ran. He slipped in blood." As the turmoil subsides, the effect on Adam of a "whole life lived in that one day" is immediate and profound. A day earlier he was struggling to measure himself against his navy lieutenant father, only to lose his father in the sunken USS Arizona and become a man himself. Mazer successfully fuses a strong portrayal of Adam's transformation with both a vivid account of the attack and subtle suggestions of the complexities of Japanese-American relations as played out in particular lives. Expert work. Ages 10-14. (May) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Adam and his family have just moved to Honolulu. His father is an officer on the U.S.S. Arizona and is very much a spit-and-polish kind of man. He is also the kind of man who does not want his son to be seen hanging around with a Japanese boy. Adam has made friends with a Nisei boy, Davi. Davi's parents came to Hawaii from Japan but Davi considers himself to be as American as Adam is. Being told that he can't see Davi again is very hard for Adam. Despite his father's words and feeling angry and confused about what to do, Adam finds himself going fishing with Davi and another boy. They go down to the harbor. There, they find a rowboat, and just as they are settling down to fish all hell breaks loose. With horrified eyes they watch Japanese planes bomb Battleship Row. Adam sees his father's ship being attacked and sinking. What follows is a series of nightmarish events. During these events Adam discovers all sorts of things about himself and others, and he is forced to come to some awful conclusions. This touching and sometimes painful story is told through the eyes and heart of a boy searching for a reason for war and suffering. Adam finds himself seeking the love and recognition of his demanding father and also a place for himself in the world. 2002, Aladdin Paperbacks,
— Marya Jansen-Gruber
Living with his family in Honolulu, fourteen-year-old Adam Pelko is proud of his father, a lieutenant serving on the battleship Arizona. Adam is not happy, however, with his father's command that he abandon his new friendship with his Nisei friend, Davi. Adam has promised to go fishing with Davi, and on the morning of December 7, 1941, he is in a rowboat with Davi and Davi's friend when the Japanese attack the American fleet. Adam sees the Arizona sink just before the boys' rowboat is hit. Events are viewed from Adam's perspective as he sees the death and destruction around him. After rescuing his friends, he is mistaken in the confusion for a sailor and is commandeered to save sailors from destroyed battleships. Mazer gives a sense of what it was like to be at Pearl Harbor as bombs fell and sailors, burned and covered in oil, floundered in the sea. An epilogue provides statistics on the logistics of the attack, describes anti-Japanese attitudes, and records the bravery of the all-Hawaiian 42nd Regimental Combat Team. In reproducing the credo of correct, stiff-upper-lip military demeanor in his representation of a naval family, Mazer's treatment of relationships and bereavement seems a little flat and lacking emotion. This short novel might appeal to reluctant readers and could be linked in booktalks with Graham Salisbury's Under the Blood-Red Sun (Delacorte, 1994/VOYA October 1994). VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P M J (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, Simon & Schuster, 112p, Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: Hilary Crew SOURCE: VOYA, June 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 2)
Fourteen-year-old Adam has lived on military bases all over the U.S. as the proud son of a navy lieutenant. Now, in 1941, Adam's family has moved to Hawaii, where his father is stationed on the battleship Arizona, moored in Pearl Harbor. Adam is starting at a new school once again, and there he meets Davi, a Japanese-American boy. The two become friends, and Adam joins Davi early one morning to go fishing in Pearl Harbor—the fateful morning of Dec. 7. The boys are caught in the middle of the Japanese attack on the American fleet, and Adam watches as his father's ship goes up in flames. Grazed by a bullet but not seriously hurt, Adam gets mistaken for a sailor and pressed into service as a volunteer, and he does what he can to help in the midst of terrible tragedy and chaos. His mother and sister are safe, but there is no sign of his father, and they hope against hope that he is still alive. Meanwhile, Davi survives the attack, but his father, who is Japanese, is taken away and locked up. Confronting prejudice (in himself and in others), loss, and grief, Adam experiences "a whole life lived in that one day." This brief but powerful novel conveys the devastation, both physical and emotional, wrought by the surprise attack, as experienced by a young teenager. Mazer, the author of The Last Mission and many other books for YAs, drew on his own memories of WW II, and he succeeds in evoking the action and horror of war. A worthy companion to studies of the war, and a good choice for reluctant readers, because it moves so swiftly and covers such a dramatic and important historical event. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2001, Simon & Schuster, 112p,$15.00. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick; May 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 3)
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-Adam Pelko has lived for only two weeks in Honolulu, where his father is an officer assigned to the USS Arizona in nearby Pearl Harbor. When he befriends Davi Mori, a high school classmate whose parents are Japanese, Adam's rigid father forbids him to associate with Davi, fearing that the anti-Japanese sentiment so rampant on the island will tarnish the Pelko family and Lieutenant Pelko's navy career. When his father is called back to the ship unexpectedly, Adam slips away from his house the following morning-December 7, 1941-to go fishing with Davi and another classmate. Rowing close to the fleet in Pearl Harbor, they witness the horrific Japanese air attack and are nearly killed themselves, their boat shot from beneath them by a low-flying fighter plane. Desperate to reach home and find out if his father is alive, Adam is spotted by an officer who mistakes him for a young enlisted man and orders him into action to help rescue survivors and restore order. Before the day is out, Adam proves himself a hero, bravely confronting death and destruction as he struggles to learn his father's fate. Mazer's final chapters leave a few issues unresolved, but his story's quick pace, graphic detail, and nonstop action will keep readers involved. Expect this novel to be in high demand after the blockbuster film Pearl Harbor arrives in the theaters this summer, generating a new wave of interest in this dramatic episode in history.-William McLoughlin, Brookside School, Worthington, OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In November of 1941, Adam Pelko is in yet another new high school. He's a military brat; his father is a naval officer recently assigned to the U.S.S. Arizona and stationed in Pearl Harbor. Adam's father is a spit-and-polish lieutenant who inspects the dust on the shelves and the wrinkles in the sheets in Adam's bedroom. When Davi Mori, a classmate whose father was born in Japan, invites him to go fishing early Sunday morning, December 7th, Adam disobeys his father. "This is a military family," his father reminds him, and his son's friendship with someone Japanese would have a negative influence on the father's career. Nonetheless, the two boys, along with a Hawaiian classmate, find themselves in a boat, watching in stunned amazement as the Japanese planes bomb and nearly destroy the American fleet. Adam, though slightly wounded, goes to the docks to look for his father. Somewhat improbably, he ends up wearing a navy uniform and carrying a rifle as he helps rescue sailors and guard the road in case of a land invasion. He eventually gets home and waits futilely with his mother and little sister until his father is declared officially missing-in-action and the family is evacuated back to the mainland. This holds the promise of an exciting tale, but Mazer does not fully develop his themes of father-son conflict, and there is a stilted, wooden quality to the writing as he tries to convey the horror and shock of the attack. Graham Salisbury's Under the Blood Red Sun (1995) is a much more fully developed tale, set in the same locale, and Janet Taylor Lisle's The Art of Keeping Cool (2000) is a more effective and involving story about boys during WWII. Mazer's afterword on Pearl Harborcontains information about the Japanese in America at that time, but unfortunately his story does not effectively involve the reader with the requisite emotional intensity or dramatic narrative. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

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Product Details

Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.12(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.30(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Meet the Author

Harry Mazer is the author of many books for young readers, including Please, Somebody Tell Me Who I Am; My Brother Abe; the Boy at War trilogy; The Wild Kid; The Dog in the Freezer; The Island Keeper; and Snow Bound. His books have won numerous honors, including a Horn Book honor and an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults citation. Along with his wife, Norma Fox Mazer, Harry received an ALAN award in 2003 for outstanding contribution to adolescent literature. He lives in Montpelier, Vermont.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 5

"Look," Bea said, holding up her stuffed animal. It was Saturday morning and she was sitting on Adam's bed. "Bear says good morning to Adam."

Bea was still in her nightgown. She slept in an alcove in a corner of their parents' room. Adam's room was off the kitchen. The model planes he'd built hung from the ceiling. They were never still.

Bea pushed her teddy bear in his face. "Bear says time to kiss." Adam put down the model plane he'd been maneuvering and gave Bear an extra-loud kiss. "Stop it." She pinched his nose. "Do you want to play?"

"Surely, little girl." He gave her his newest Japanese fighter plane. "It's called a Zero, and this game is called dogfight."

"I don't like dogs who fight."

"It's not dogs fighting, it's planes fighting each other the way they do it in a war. This is the way we play. You're high, against the sun, so I can't see you till the last second, and you come out of the sun, shooting down at me."

"You don't shoot your brother."

"It's only a game." He moved her arm so her plane was above his. "Make believe you're going to shoot me."

"I can do it," she said, pushing his hand away. "You don't have to show me. Bap! Bap! Bap!"

"Good! See how you're behind me, on my tail? It looks bad for me, but watch this." He sent his navy Corsair into a rolling dive and came back up under the Zero. "You see that? I just blew your plane into a thousand pieces."

"You did not." Bea held her plane up triumphantly. "See, you missed me."

"Okay, test time," he said. "What's the Punchbowl?"

"Where we live."

"Do you know it's a dead -- "

"Volcano! I know that already."

"Do you know that Hawaii is built on all dead volcanoesthat came out of the ocean?"

"You told me." She yawned, patting her mouth. "That is so boring."

He picked up another model plane with square-tipped wings. "What's this plane called?"

"I don't know. No fair."

"Grumman Wildcat. It's the navy fighter plane. And this one here, next to it, is a P-40 Curtiss Warhawk. It's the army fighter, and this one's a German Messerschmitt Me 109."

"Which plane is the best?"

"The American planes are always the best."

"We always win," Bea said.

"Hello..." Their mother looked in. "Anybody home? It's time for breakfast."

"We're playing dogfight," Bea said. "Bap, bap, bap! I won, Mommy."

"Is it really time for breakfast, Mom?" Adam asked.

"It's almost time for lunch, kiddo. Let's clear the decks and get this bunk ready for inspection."

When his father was home, their house was a ship. The floors were decks, beds were bunks, windows were portholes, the kitchen was the galley, and if Adam said "bathroom," his father said, "I think you mean the head."

"Your father sees this mess, you're in for a lecture," his mother said.

"And maybe a sock on the behind," Bea said. "And you're going to cry and cry."

"Let me remind you, little girl," Adam said, "boys don't cry."

He lifted her off his bunk, then made it navy style, by the book, everything taut, hospital corners, no wrinkles. His father was still asleep, so his mother would do the inspection. It was their regular Saturday-morning ritual, whether his father was here or not.

When he was ready, he called her, then stood by the door. His mother did a tough inspection. There was always some place he'd forgotten to dust. It was the shelf in the closet this time. When his father did the inspection, he'd bounce a quarter on the bunk and if it didn't bounce high enough for him to catch, Adam would have to tear the bunk apart and make it over again.

After his mother had finished the inspection and he had wiped the shelf, she interrogated him exactly as his father did, even deepening her voice. "Do you appreciate that you have a room of your own, sailor?"

"Yes, sir, I do!"

"I didn't have a room of my own when I was a boy, sailor."

"No, sir, I know that."

His mother stood at attention. She enjoyed this little game they played. "All I ever got for Christmas was a pair of itchy red socks. No model airplanes, no Raleigh racers."

"No, sir," he said. "I know that, sir!"

"Are you thankful for what you have?"

"Yes, sir, I am. I know that I'm one fortunate son of a gun. And I have to give back, I know that, too. Yes, sir, I am a grateful boy."

"Are you mocking me, sailor?"

"Yes, sir!"

"That's going to get you six months of KP, sailor."

In the kitchen a few minutes later, his mother put the yellow cornflakes box on the table with a bowl and a banana. Bea was on the floor playing with Bear. "I want Jell-O, please," she said. Koniko, their Japanese maid, didn't work on the weekends, although she'd be in later to baby-sit Bea. Adam and his parents were going to the movies.

Adam peeled the banana. "What was Dad like when he was my age, Mom?"

"He was a farm boy, and he had to work terribly, terribly hard. If there was work to be done, he got up at five every morning before school. A lot of times he never made it to school. He was the oldest, and your grandpa needed him on the farm. Grandpa couldn't do a lot with just one arm."

Adam's grandfather Pelko had lost an arm in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I. That arm ended just below the elbow. He usually kept a sock over the stump. He could always make Adam jump by wriggling the bare stump in his face.

"Dad ran away from home, didn't he?"

Adam knew the answer, but this was the thing about his father that most fascinated him. His father, so disciplined, so regular, so sober, was once free enough -- or wild enough -- that he left his family and took to the road. Fourteen years old, Adam's age. He had thought about that a lot. That was really brave.

His mother emptied the contents of a Jell-O package into a bowl. "Your father ran away, but he wasn't a bad kid. He joined the navy -- "

" -- And lied about his age," Adam said.

"Your father doesn't lie! I don't like the way you said that, Adam."

"Sorry," he said.

She poured boiling water over the Jell-O. "It wasn't the same as real lying. He wanted the navy. He needed a home. Sometimes life forces you to do things. We don't know how hard his life was, Adam. We can't even imagine it. He had to work like a man from the time he was eight years old. You will never have to make the choices he did."

She stirred the Jell-O. "And what he's accomplished, the position of trust and authority that he's risen to, everything he's achieved -- he did it all by himself. He came up from nothing. Your father -- I have to say it -- your father is an admirable man. Really, a great man."

"Maybe he'll be admirable of the fleet someday."

A flip remark. It just sprang out of his mouth. He really agreed with his mother, his father was admirable, but there was something about his being so admirable that, well, scared Adam. Would he ever be capable of doing what his father did? Could he ever be even half the man his father was?

If his mother caught the admirable pun, she didn't let on. "There might be a war," she said. She refilled the teakettle.

"War with Japan?" he asked.

"Yes." She sighed. "Nobody wants it, but -- "

"Dad wants it."

"What do you mean 'Dad wants it'? What kind of thing is that to say, Adam?"

"I mean that's his job, Mom. That's what all the training exercises are about. Don't worry, we're ready for them."

"Ready is one thing, war is something else."

"You don't have to worry, Mom. There's nothing safer than a battleship. If war comes, Dad's going to be okay."

He made his hand into a gun. War was exciting. It was action. It was ships, planes, and guns. It was being faster and smarter than your enemy. It was defending your country.

"Dad says all that talk in Washington is a waste of time. The Japs want to push us out of the Pacific, but if they try, we're going to knock their heads off."

"Don't say 'Jap,'" his mother said. "It's vulgar."

"Sorry, Mom."

He put his bowl in the sink. He just hoped that if war came, it wouldn't be over too soon. "I'm going out now," he said.

"Get me some papayas first," his mother said.

He stepped out into the garden. The grass was wet and tickled his bare feet. It was December, and there were flowers in the bushes and bird sounds in the air, and everywhere there was the smell of summer. A big, ugly toad sat under the papaya tree. Adam inched his foot toward it. "Buffo," he said, and it jumped away.

He picked a few papayas and brought them in to his mother. "I'll be back at 1800."

"Where are you going?"

Where was he going? He didn't know. "I'm just going to poke around."

"Be home on time. You know your father."

"Don't worry, Mom, I'll be here."

Text copyright © 2001 by Harry Mazer

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