Missing in Action

( 1 )


Dirty. Lazy. Good-For-Nothing.

Jay Thacker is used to being called names because his dad is half Navajo. But he gets a chance at a new life and a new identity when he and his mom move from Salt Lake City to the small town of Delta. In Delta, Jay's grandfather is a beloved and well-respected man. And in Delta, Jay can convince everyone, and maybe even himself, that his dad, who is Missing in Action as he fights in World War II, is really a POW ...

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Dirty. Lazy. Good-For-Nothing.

Jay Thacker is used to being called names because his dad is half Navajo. But he gets a chance at a new life and a new identity when he and his mom move from Salt Lake City to the small town of Delta. In Delta, Jay's grandfather is a beloved and well-respected man. And in Delta, Jay can convince everyone, and maybe even himself, that his dad, who is Missing in Action as he fights in World War II, is really a POW and military hero, and not gone forever.

But the bubble Jay has built around himself begins to burst when he has to confront his prejudices toward Ken, his new friend. Ken, the Japanese American from the nearby Topaz internment camp. Ken, the Jap. Sure Ken has been coaching Jay in baseball, bringing him one step closer to his dream of playing in the major leagues, and has also been coaching him in the latest dance moves, bringing him one step closer to the prettiest girl in town. But how can Jay learn to trust Ken when there is a war on?

As the summer wears on and Jay finds himself growing up a little faster than he expected, he learns to look at some truths that had previously been impossible to face. Truths about his father, about Ken, and about himself, too.

In this understated and moving story about an unlikely friendship, Dean Hughes provides a glimpse at the choices a boy must make as he decides what kind of man he'll one day be.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Jay's dad has been declared Missing in Action in the Pacific during World War II, so he and his mom have moved from Salt Lake City to small-town Utah, where his mother's family lives. Life there is unsettling, especially when his mother's men friends appear. Jay finds new buddy Gordy's derogatory references to his partial Navajo heritage upsetting but stays silent so he can play baseball. His grandfather's status as an elder of the Mormon church helps, but it isn't until he works on the farm with Ken, a release worker from a Japanese internment camp, that Jay begins to see the bigger picture of what matters and what doesn't. Many forms of prejudice appear in the narrative, with thoughtlessness and injustice intertwined. Navajo spiritual elements combine with Jay's Mormon faith in a delicate balancing act. Hughes manages to pull it all together for an ending that is touching and somewhat realistic. The plot serves the theme well, as events in Jay's life are illustrated by multiple instances of bias. Subtle and engaging. (Historical fiction. 8-12)
Publishers Weekly
Set in Utah during WWII, Hughes's (Search and Destroy) emotionally honest coming-of-age story follows the conflicted thoughts of 12-year-old Jay, who moves from Salt Lake City to a small town and contends with the casual racism prevalent among his new friends (“lazy Indian” stereotypes are common, and the boys nickname Jay “Chief” after learning his father is half Navajo). Jay's abusive father has been missing for months after his ship was torpedoed in the Pacific, and introspective, sensitive Jay awaits his improbable return with the hope that everything will improve once his family is reunited. When Jay's grandfather gives him a farm job alongside 17-year-old Ken, a fun-loving Japanese-American from California who has been relocated with his family to an internment camp, they become friends, and Jay has to confront his own prejudices (before meeting Ken, his knowledge of Japanese people was limited to unsympathetic portrayals in the movies and war posters of “ugly little yellow guys with glasses”). Hughes pens a candid and dynamic tale that illuminates the complexities of discrimination and the power of friendship. Ages 10-14. (Mar.)
School Library Journal
Gr 6–8—Hughes tackles a multitude of issues in this intriguing yet uneven World War II-era novel. Although Jay Thacker's part-Navajo heritage immediately marks him as "different" in his new town, his baseball skills and his grandfather's standing in the local Mormon community soften barriers in Delta, UT. The 12-year-old's newfound baseball buddies quickly reveal their prejudices against Native Americans, nicknaming him "Chief" and discussing their parents' views that Indians are lazy alcoholic thieves. Jay's own latent prejudices also surface when he learns that his grandfather has hired a young Japanese-American farmhand from the Topaz internment camp. Much to Jay's surprise, Ken wants to join the army once he turns 18 and has a gift for baseball, which leads to him becoming Jay's unofficial coach. Suspicion over Jay's friendship with Ken erupts at a teen social, leading to a runaway attempt by Jay. Although serious issues of Native American prejudice, family violence, Japanese-American internment, and homophobia are raised, the story ends too idealistically and neatly. Rather than focusing on one central theme, multiple situations and issues are juggled to a less-than-satisfactory end. Jay's mixed feelings toward his own ethnic heritage and his initial misconceptions about Japanese Americans are believable and realistic. Recommended where Hughes's novels are popular and as an additional purchase for multicultural collections.—Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442412484
  • Publisher: Simon Pulse
  • Publication date: 2/8/2011
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 294,153
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Dean Hughes is the author of more than eighty books for young readers, including the popular sports series Angel Park All-Stars, the Scrappers series, the Nutty series, the widely acclaimed companion novels Family Pose and Team Picture, and Search and Destroy. Soldier Boys was selected for the 2001 New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age list. Dean Hughes and his wife, Kathleen, have three children and nine grandchildren. They live in Midway, Utah.

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