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The Always War

The Always War

4.2 35
by Margaret Peterson Haddix

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Unending war leads to the discovery of uneasy truths when two teens question the status quo in this riveting thriller.

For as long as Tessa can remember, her country has been at war. When local golden boy Gideon Thrall is awarded a medal for courage, it’s a rare bright spot for everyone in Tessa’s town—until Gideon refuses the award,


Unending war leads to the discovery of uneasy truths when two teens question the status quo in this riveting thriller.

For as long as Tessa can remember, her country has been at war. When local golden boy Gideon Thrall is awarded a medal for courage, it’s a rare bright spot for everyone in Tessa’s town—until Gideon refuses the award, claims he was a coward, and runs away. Tessa is bewildered, and she can’t help but follow Gideon to find out the truth. But Tessa is in for more than she bargained for. Before she knows it, she has stowed away on a rogue airplane and is headed for enemy territory. But all that pales when she discovers a shocking truth that rocks the foundation of everything she’s ever believed—a truth that will change the world. Is Tessa strong enough to bring it into the light?

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Greta Holt
Tessa lives in a depressing world that appears to have been at war for more than seventy-five years. Gideon, a childhood acquaintance, rejects being honored as a war hero, which makes Tessa curious about the nature of the war itself. She, Gideon, and the younger Dek, steal a plane and fly it into enemy territory. There, they discover that the war is not real. Two computers, remains of the actual war, have combined to save mankind by feeding false information to each side. The middle of the country is no longer controlled by either side, but both Eastam and Westam think they are still at war. Each side makes arms and endures hardships, but the war and its very real devastation have been over for many years. Haddix's themes—the horrors of war, technology saving people from themselves, and the need to doubt convention—are of mature interest. Some elements of narrative structure, though, may make the book better suited for the middle grade reader than the young adult reader. In the midst of intense action, Tessa asks herself many questions, which—while clarifying her thoughts—tend to slow the pace. The book is short for its grown-up themes; thus, development of setting and characterization appear secondary to action sequences. The three main characters are ages seventeen, fifteen, and eleven. The eleven year old Dek seems the strongest, and she will appeal to middle grade readers. Reviewer: Greta Holt
School Library Journal
Gr 6–8—In a future society in which the U.S. is divided by a perpetual civil war, 15-year-old Tessa struggles to remain optimistic. When Gideon Thrall, a childhood neighbor, is recognized as a war hero, she feels a surge of hope and thinks that perhaps she's found something to believe in. Her hopefulness is short-lived though, as she discovers that Gideon's only accomplishment was killing thousands as he navigated a drone while sitting at a desk. He and Tessa form an unlikely team, and after flying a black-market airplane into enemy territory, they begin to discover the truth behind the always war. The short chapters with cliff-hanger endings and the action-packed plot make this book an excellent choice for reluctant readers. Some backstory is eventually provided, though it is developed over the course of many chapters. This novel has "sequel inevitable" written all over it. And for many readers, that's a good thing, right?—Lindsay Cesari, Baldwinsville School District, NY
Publishers Weekly
When 15-year-old Tessa attends a ceremony to honor her neighbor Gideon, a hero in a 70-year war that has worn down the society she lives in, she has no idea where his refusal of the award will lead them. Hope is a rare commodity in this future America, but Tessa finds just enough of it to follow Gideon onto a warplane he purchases on the black market. Along with another stowaway, they land in enemy territory, where Gideon hopes to make reparations for the lives he’s taken; they discover, however, that everything they know about the war is an illusion. It’s a smart premise, considering that the book’s U.S. audience has basically grown up in a nation at war, yet Haddix’s (Claim to Fame) story is more about uncovering the unreality of war than its truths. The novel has more than a few hints of The Wizard of Oz (one can almost feel the book switch from b&w to Technicolor), but its final revelations and the idea of this trio as its society’s salvation don’t feel believable, drawing focus away from the author’s message. Ages 12–up. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
"This dystopian drama examines the human aspect of war, and also how technology may redefine war in the future....plot turns will certainly keep [readers] entranced."—Kirkus Reviews

"A smart premise."—Publishers Weekly

"The plot is good, the story line is captivating, and there are certainly many opportunities for discussion...will find itself at home in any school library and many public libraries as well...perfect for reluctant readers."—VOYA

"An excellent choice for reluctant readers."—School Library Journal

VOYA - Kristi Sadowski
Something is apparently wrong from the opening chapter of Haddix's The Always War. For over seventy years, the war has been raging. The entire society is working toward the war effort, and yet only very few people even know what the fighting is about. When Tessa watches her childhood playmate Gideon run from the assembly in which he should be accepting a Medal of Honor for his work in the air force, she decides that she can be the one to reach through his pain. That choice follows Tessa through the story as she stows away on a stolen plane flying into enemy territory—only no one shoots at them. In fact, there are no people anywhere. Tessa, Gideon, and a second stowaway named Dek return to army headquarters and confront the truth about the war. The plot is good, the story line is captivating, and there are certainly many opportunities for discussion. Though the depicted war is fictional, stresses attributed to soldiers, the function of the society, and even the increased use of technology in warfare are all important topics for this novel. This is a book that will find itself at home in any school library and many public libraries as well. The Always War is short, and the plot moves along quickly, which makes it perfect for reluctant readers; however, it does at times move too quickly, and avid readers will want more detail and more exploration of the topics presented, especially during the abrupt ending. Reviewer: Kristi Sadowski
Kirkus Reviews
For the past 75 years, Tessa's nation has been at war--a war that has no end in sight. Tessa lives in a community of weary people, visibly crushed by endless years of combat. They are numb; war is commonplace. But when a local boy receives an award for bravery--the nation's highest--it lifts the city. Everyone, especially Tessa, desperately needs a hero. But Gideon shocks the town by refusing the honor. He declares himself a coward and runs away. He has killed more than 1,000 people; there is no honor in that. But that's what war is, isn't it? Killing the enemy is necessary. Gideon infuriates Tessa, but she is inexplicably curious as well. She follows him and ends up on a plane, with Gideon steering it straight toward the enemy line. He hopes to apologize, to atone for his mistakes, but what he and Tessa (along with a stowaway orphan named Dek) find when they open the plane's door changes the plan dramatically. This dystopian drama examines the human aspect of war, and also how technology may redefine war in the future. In line with that tension, it is difficult to pinpoint which character grows the most in the narrative--Tessa or the computer. If hoping to grab a heartfelt connection, readers may feel sidelined, but plot turns will certainly keep them entranced. (Dystopia. 10-14)

Product Details

Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
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2 MB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


Gideon Thrall stood offstage, waiting in the wings. The announcer hadn’t called his name yet, but people craned their necks and leaned sideways to see him. Whispers of excitement began to float through the crowd: “There he is!” “The hero …” “Doesn’t he just look like a hero?”

Then the PA system boomed out, so loudly that the words seemed to be part of Tessa’s brain: “And now, our honoree, the young man we will be forever indebted to for our survival, for our very way of life—Lieutenant-Pilot Gideon Thrall!”

The applause thundered through the crowd. Gideon took his first steps into the spotlight. His golden hair gleamed, every strand perfectly in place. His white uniform, perfectly creased, glowed against the darkness around him. He could have been an angel, a saint—some creature who stood above ordinary humans. Even the fact that he walked humbly, with his head bowed, was perfect. At a moment like this most people would have looked too proud, like they were gloating. But not Gideon. He wasn’t going to lord it over anyone that he, Gideon Thrall, had just won his nation’s highest honor, something nobody else from Waterford City had ever done.

Standing at the back of the crowd with the other kids from the common school, Tessa felt her heart swell with pride.

“I know him,” she whispered.

The applause had just begun to taper off, so Tessa’s voice rang out louder than she’d intended. It was actually audible. Down the row Cordina Kurdle fixed Tessa with a hard stare.

“What did you say, flea?” Cordina asked.

Tessa knew better than to repeat her boast. The safe response would be a shrug, a cowed shake of the head, maybe a mumbled, “Nothing. Sorry for bothering you.” But sometimes something got into her, some bold recklessness she couldn’t explain.

Maybe she wanted to brag more than she wanted to be safe?

“I said, I know him.” She cleared her throat. “He was my neighbor. We grew up together.”

Cordina snorted.

“Hear that?” she said to the kids clustered around her.

Her sycophants, Tessa thought. Cronies. Henchmen.

The words she’d found in old books were fun to think about, but they wouldn’t provide much protection if Cordina decided that someone needed to beat up Tessa to teach her a lesson.

“Hear what?” one of the sycophants asked, right on cue.

“Gnat over there thinks she deserves some credit for living on the same planet as the hero,” Cordina mocked.

“We were next-door neighbors,” Tessa said. She stopped herself from adding, We made mud pies together when we were little, though it was true. Possibly. Tessa didn’t remember it herself, but way back when Gideon was first chosen for the military academy, Tessa’s mother had started showing around a picture of Tessa, about age two, and Gideon, age five or six, playing together in the mud behind their apartment building.

Gideon had looked like a golden child destined for great things even then, even sitting in mud.

Tessa had looked … muddy.

Tessa was saved from any further temptation to brag—or embarrass herself—because the general who’d come from the capital just for this occasion stepped to the podium. He held up a medallion on a chain, and the whole auditorium grew quiet. The general let the medallion swing back and forth, ever so slightly, and the spotlight glinted from it out into the crowd. For a moment Tessa forgot that the city auditorium was squalid and dirty and full of broken chairs and cracked flooring. For a moment she forgot that the people in the crowd had runny noses and blotchy skin and patched clothing. She forgot they could be so mean and low-down. For that one moment everyone shared in the light.

“Courage,” the general said in a hushed voice, as if he too were in awe. “We give this medal of honor for courage far above the measure of ordinary citizens. Only eleven people have earned this medal in our nation’s history. And now Gideon Thrall, a proud son of Waterford City, will be the twelfth.” He turned. “Gideon?”

The general lifted the chain even higher, ready to slip it over Gideon’s head. Gideon took a halting step forward, as if he wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to do.

No, Tessa thought. To her surprise she was suddenly furious with Gideon. Don’t hesitate now! Be bold! You’re getting an award for courage. Act like it!

Gideon was staring at the medallion. Even from the back of the auditorium Tessa could see his face twist into an expression that looked nothing like boldness or bravery. How could he be acting so confused? Or … scared?

“For your bravery in battle,” the general said, holding out the medallion like a beacon. He was trying to guide Gideon into place. Gideon just needed to put his head inside the chain. Then everyone could clap and cheer again, and all the awkwardness would be forgotten.

Gideon made no move toward the chain.

“No,” Gideon said, and in the silent auditorium his voice sounded weak and panicky. “I … can’t.”

“Can’t?” the general repeated, clearly unable to believe his own ears.

“I don’t deserve it,” Gideon said, and strangely, his voice was stronger now. “I wasn’t brave. I was a coward.”

He looked at the general, looked at the medallion—and whirled around and ran from the auditorium.

© 2011 Margaret Peterson Haddix

Meet the Author

Margaret Peterson Haddix is the author of many critically and popularly acclaimed YA and middle grade novels, including the Children of Exile series, The Missing series, the Under Their Skin series, and the Shadow Children series. A graduate of Miami University (of Ohio), she worked for several years as a reporter for The Indianapolis News. She also taught at the Danville (Illinois) Area Community College. She lives with her family in Columbus, Ohio. Visit her at HaddixBooks.com.

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The Always War 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was sort of similar to one of her other series called the Missing Series in a way cause of the fighting, mystery, and the bug shocker at the end of each book. I wiish this book was longer and he a little more details in the beginning in the book. The ending was a shocker to me and the end was when it got intense. Overall good book and i recommned u to read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a good book but it was very small, I finished it in an hour. I liked it. I would reccomend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awesome book ! I just finished it and it only took me 2-3 days because it draws you in soooo much !! I read half the book in one day and it took me 3 days only because i didn't have time to read the second day . Such a good book !!!!!!!! Kind of a sudden ending though , but it was unpredictable (which for me is a good book) awesome !!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This auther is great. She develops the characters nicely and keeps the action parts well spaced out. I wasnt a big fan of reading it at first, but after the first chapter i couldnt put it down. I would recomend you read this if you like action and adventure. If you dont like to read then this book will change your mind.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Your mom your mom your mom Duhhhh Repost this on4 books then put your nook under your pillow to win the lottery
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a really good book so keep up the good work man understand mannnnnnnn hhjgunjnjmipiasssdspiss
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tell me please
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book!!!!!!!!! It is awesome!!!! What Tessa found out later was shocking and if you like unexpected twists in books, you will love this book!!! Even if you don't, read this book!!!!!! You will love it!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very intersting and fun to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought it was pretty good but it ended so soon and i didnt expect it. But overall it was amazing.(second book please?)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Overall I was very disappointed. I expected much better from Haddix. The character was very weak and I hated the ending.The whole book was very disappointing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book for $8.99 and found out that it was only 154 pages. The story was good but I feel as though the characters could have been more developed. I finished this book in about 2 hours. Should have been more like $1.99.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The first time I read it I loved it and you should read this book to cause I think your going to love to!!!!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the best book ever. I thought that it was good with well drawn characters. Loved it a very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very lot. You would be very very very very very very crazy person not to like this. I have read a lot of books big and small, but this is the best by far. My favorite part was when Tessa, Gidion, and Des went into the room with the computer and the computer talked with them and they got shot with darts and were taken to the cell and then they fixed the small computer and then made a comercial telling everybody that there was not a real war and then they believed
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book and it's my favorite by margret peterson haddix.