Death Coming Up the Hill

Death Coming Up the Hill

4.0 1
by Chris Crowe

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It’s 1968, and war is not foreign to seventeen-year-old Ashe. His dogmatic, racist father married his passionate peace-activist mother when she became pregnant with him, and ever since, the couple, like the situation in Vietnam, has been engaged in a “senseless war that could have been prevented.”
     When his high school


It’s 1968, and war is not foreign to seventeen-year-old Ashe. His dogmatic, racist father married his passionate peace-activist mother when she became pregnant with him, and ever since, the couple, like the situation in Vietnam, has been engaged in a “senseless war that could have been prevented.”
     When his high school history teacher dares to teach the political realities of the war, Ashe grows to better understand the situation in Vietnam, his family, and the wider world around him. But when a new crisis hits his parents’ marriage, Ashe finds himself trapped, with no options before him but to enter the fray.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Through simple yet powerful words, Crowe expertly reveals life in 1968...Teens wil be drawn to what it is like to be living an everyday existence during wartime."

"The unusual narrative style makes this exploration of Vietnam-era politics at home and abroad readily accessible to struggling readers, while fans of poetry may appreciate the eloquence in its brevity."

"Readers will settle quickly into the haiku, most likely either ignoring it or pausing to take notice of those moments in which the rhythm cannily emulates speech patterns. YAs convinced they don’t like historical fiction should take a look at this gripping, fast-moving quick pick."
VOYA, October 2014 (Vol. 37, No. 4) - Erin Segreto
War surrounds seventeen-year-old Ashe. It is 1968 and while the Vietnam War rages on, so does the war at home between his parents. Ashe feels responsible for his parents’ unhappiness as he is the reason they married. Back then it was how things were “made right,” but times are changing. Caught between peacemakers like his mother and war supporters like his father, Ashe has to decide on his own path in life even though the options before him are limited. He finds comfort in his girlfriend, Angela, a flower-child with a brother on the front lines, and learns to better understand the world around him. When a bombshell hits his family and forever changes life as he knows it, Ashe realizes that the only option he really has is to enter the fray. Death Coming Up The Hill, written entirely in haiku, contains one syllable for every U.S. soldier killed in Vietnam in 1968, for a total of 16,592 syllables (and deaths). The story is told from the perspective of Ashe, the only child of two parents who married because his mother became pregnant with him. He is often caught in the middle between his racist father and activist mother. It is through his relationships with his girlfriend and his high school history teacher that he begins to better understand the situation in Vietnam and his own family. Through simple yet powerful words, Crowe expertly reveals life in 1968. Teens will be drawn to what it is like to be living an everyday existence during wartime. With each chapter representing a death toll, the Vietnam War comes alive for a new generation. Reviewer: Erin Segreto; Ages 12 to 18.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—It's 1968, and 17-year-old Ashe Douglas is coping with two devastating wars: one in Vietnam and one in his own home. His parents married young after his mother became pregnant with him and have been sticking it out in a loveless marriage for his sake ever since. The two are fiercely incompatible with fundamentally different beliefs, and Ashe is caught in the middle. Making matters worse are rising casualties in Vietnam and increasing racial and political unrest, all of which have a profound impact on Ashe and those he loves and which threaten to snap the delicate threads holding his life together. Written entirely in stanzas of haiku, the novel is composed of 16,592 syllables, one for each American soldier killed in Vietnam in 1968. This structure, while meaningful, somewhat limits the pacing and full development of the story, and the characters, at times, feel like caricatures of the era. Still, Ashe's emotional struggle is heartbreaking, and his story gives Crowe a thoughtful platform from which to explore issues of family, divorce, patriotism, peace, human compassion, and the tolls of war. It will appeal to fans of novels in verse or to readers with an interest in the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, or American history.—Lauren Strohecker, McKinley Elementary School, Abington School District, PA
Kirkus Reviews
Seventeen-year-old Ashe Douglas records the events of 1968 in a novel in haiku. Ashe was born on May 17, 1951, and is a senior in high school during the year he decides to describe in haiku, liking the tidiness of the three-line, 17-syllable form. The year is 1968, when more soldiers died in the Vietnam War than in any other year. Ashe decides not only to write haiku, but to dedicate a syllable to each soldier killed—976 haiku equals 16,592 syllables equals the number of soldiers killed in 1968. An entire story "contained by a syllable count." Not only is that asking a lot of its diminutive form, but so much happened in 1968: the war, race riots, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, let alone Ashe's family life, which resembles a war zone. Haiku stanzas just can't contain it all, being ill equipped for the depth or context necessary for a rich historical novel. But what transcends contrivance and gimmickry is Ashe's voice, and haiku are well-suited to carry that. With newspaper headlines, death tolls, and overwhelming world, national and domestic events in the background, one boy's clear and earnest voice records his life: "I'll / write what needs to be / remembered and leave it to / you to fill in the gaps." A memorable / and innovative story / of one wrenching year. (historical note, author's note) (Historical fiction/poetry. 12-16)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)
930L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 Years

Read an Excerpt

April 1969Week Fifteen: 204

There’s something tidy
in seventeen syllables,
a haiku neatness

that leaves craters of
meaning between the lines but
still communicates

what matters most. I
don’t have the time or the space
to write more, so I’ll

write what needs to be
remembered and leave it to
you to fill in the

gaps if you feel like
it. In 1968,
sixteen thousand five

hundred ninety-two
American soldiers died
in Vietnam, and

I’m dedicating
one syllable to each soul
as I record my

own losses suffered
in 1968, a
year like no other.


January 1968
Week One: 184

The trouble started
on New Year’s Eve when Mom came
home late. Way too late.

Worry about Mom—
and about Dad—knotted my
gut while Dad paced the

living room like a
panther ready to pounce. “Where
the hell is she, Ashe?

Those damn activists . . .
I shouldn’t have let her go.
Well, that’s the last time,

the absolute last
time she mixes with trouble-
makers. It ends now!”

He looked at me like
it was somehow my fault, but
I knew better. He

had to blame someone,
and I became an easy
target. But it made

me angry at him—
and at Mom, too. Why couldn’t
they just get along?

What I wished for the
new year was peace at home, in
Vietnam, and the

world. A normal life.
Was that too much to ask for?
The door creaked open,

Mom stepped in, and Dad
pounced. I crept up the stairs, closed
my door, and tuned out.

?  ?  ?

Later, Mom tapped on
my door and came in, timid
as a new kid late

to school. And she smiled
even though she’d just had a
knock-down, drag-out with

Dad. There was a light
in her that I hadn’t seen
in a long, long time.

She wanted to check
on me, to make sure I was
okay, to tell me

that May 17,
1951, was the
best day of her life

because it was the
day I was born, and even
though things had been rough,

she had no regrets.
Not one. Then she hugged me and
whispered that maybe,

just maybe, there was
light at the end of this dark
tunnel. “You never

know what’s coming up
the hill,” she said, then left me
alone, worrying.

Meet the Author

CHRIS CROWE, a professor of English at Brigham Young University, has published award-winning fiction and nonfiction for teenagers, poetry, essays, books, and many articles for academic and popular magazines. He is a popular speaker and writer in librarian and teacher circles. He lives with his wife in Provo, Utah.

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Death Coming Up the Hill 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Sandy5 More than 1 year ago
4.5 stars There’s a war going on in Vietnam and also one in Ashe’s house. Both wars are leaving a line of destruction, tearing apart lives, creating wounds that will take years to heal and unfortunately for Ashe, he feels the effect from both of these battles. Being seventeen and an only child, doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel the effects of war, it’s around him: he feels it at school, his friend Angela’s family is missing a son/brother who whereabouts are yet to be determined and his father, well his views of the war, you just don’t want to get him started as he’s very vocal and intense. The year is 1968 and Ashe’s parents have opposite views of the war, the tension is high in the house and Ashe is the middle again. Mom’s tired of screaming, the arguments between this married couple have been going on for years, so the silent treatment is being played out and it’s driving dad crazy. Dad’s racial and radical views seem over the top and I can see how it pushes the rest of the family in the shadows as he goes off in his tangents. The drama does not cease within the walls of Ashe’s house, it only escalates and I had a huge OMG moment where I was lost for words as their lives hung in the balance. I smiled to myself as I just wanted the book to end, I did….I really just wanted it to end. It was one of those ha, gotcha moments were it really didn’t matter what happened next, where life is life and all is good. Can’t we just quit at that? But no, there had to be closure, a big bow tied on the end of the story and that okay for some but I had my moment and I was happy. Ashe is confronted with emotions everywhere. His teacher breaks down while discussing the war, his memories are haunting him and while Angela comforts him, she takes control of the situation and dismisses the class. The country is in turmoil and the book is heaving with emotions from all the characters, no one is steady on their feet. Ashe is concerned about his future after high school, he fears going to war, he fears what will transpire with his parents and then Angela walks into his life. She’s not there to save him as she has her own issues that she confronting but she’s someone Ashe can open up to. Written in haiku, I found that it took me a while to get used to reading this text in this format. Parts of this novel really worked and were extremely emotional written in this poetic format while others sections, I found difficult to get into the flow of the meter.