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Children's LiteratureJust out of high school, Rick Ward thinks he wants to go to college and become a writer, but the circumstances of his life work against him. His girlfriend admires his writing, but she wants him to protest the Vietnam War and stop playing beach volleyball with his friends. The day after she breaks up with him, he quits his job when his abrasive boss repeatedly finds fault with his work, and his father throws him out of the house. Knowing that he will not be able to earn enough money for college in the fall, he feels that the army is his only option. It will give him respect from his father, a place to live, and experiences to write about. Basic training tests his ability to put up with humiliation, but his athletic conditioning and mental ability take him successfully through the course. Additional training and his request to be sent to Vietnam land him in the Charlie Rangers, a special unit that searches the jungle for enemy soldiers. His new unit is both more and less than he was hoping for. The total trust each man shows the others when they are on patrol surpasses anything Rick could have imagined, but the insults and cruelty some of the same men display in the barracks sometimes makes him feel like an outcast. Kent, a young Mormon soldier called Preacher by the rest of the unit, befriends him, but since Kent is scorned by the others for his compassion toward the local Vietnamese, this friendship further isolates Rick and he tries to pull away from it. He wants to believe that he is making a positive contribution, but he is sickened when men he cares about are killed in front of him and when he himself kills a sniper at close range. When Kent's foot is blown off by a mine, Rickfinally realizes how much he has depended on Kent's friendship. Then, on a patrol led by a sergeant who makes bad judgments, Rick is shot through the leg and the intestines while rescuing another soldier. Recovery time in the hospital gives him time to think about the war and the men he has fought beside. He still plans to write and to go to college, but he has learned just how complex reality is. This excellent novel brings the reader into the heat and danger of the literal jungle. Even better, it brings the reader into the good and bad of real people and their actions as directed by the forces of war. 2006, Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster, Ages 12 up.