books by theme veterans
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Today is the anniversary of September 11th. It was a day that rocked the whole world. It also sparked a war that hasn't ended. Others have done a much better job of highlighting stories about that day; I decided to honor those who took up arms in the aftermath: American veterans. I'm my first month into the VA, and it's amazing how many of these men and women are lauded--in theory--but forgotten in practice.
Here are just a few of their stories. Some I've read; some are recommendations from smart people. The stories by vets are mostly nonfiction or adult fiction. For the stories about vets, I tried to pick some that would especially appeal to the YA crowd. I also don't pretend to be an expert, so please comment if there are books you feel are better, more authentic representations.
written by veterans
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
We're taking a flashback here to talk about one of my favorite books, Slaughterhouse Five. At the face, it's a book about the firestorms in Dresden and time travel and science fiction. And it is. But it's also based heavily on the true account of Vonnegut's own experiences: in Dresden, in the war, and in Slaughterhouse Five. The fantastical elements allow you to feel the story in a new way.
Dust to Dust by Benjamin Busch
Busch is a veteran of my generation's wars, with two combat tours in Iraq. This memoir details his experiences during the war, but it's more so about Busch's life: his childhood, his experience with his family and how that changed with the war, his own ambivalence towards the violence. It's had two nominations for the Pushcart Prize as well, and has been described as "haunting and lyrical."
Fobbit by David Abrams
This one struck me as I was researching for the list. I love satire. I think that humor can help you deal with difficult emotions in ways that a serious book sometimes can't. It can be even sharper, more poignant. In Fobbit, Abrams lightly fictionalizes his own experiences at a Forward Operating Base in Iraq--a sort of wartime oasis of Starbucks, Xbox, and nighttime liaisons. It's a look at a part of the war that you don't usually see.
Shade it Black by Jessica Goodell
The stories of female veterans are more difficult to find. This one is a memoir by Goodell about her service in a part of the war that no one ever thinks about: the treatment of the dead. Goodell was responsible for recovering, processing, and delivering the remains of soldiers killed overseas. It's something you don't see in the movies, and the psychological aftermath is staggering. Personally, I've spoken with vets who felt that their time on funeral duty was more damaging than anything they experienced in Iraq. It's a forgotten part of the war Goodell tackles gracefully and with raw honesty.
written about veterans
I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios
I really loved this sort of crossover YA/NA book. It chronicles two summers in a small town: Skylar's, full of worries and hopes for escape, and Josh's, shaded by the too-recent memories of his tour in Iraq, the loss of his friends and his leg. While it skews heavy on the romance, it's not saccharine. Demetrios formed Josh's character from numerous hours of research, interviews with vets, and the experience of her own family, and it shows in the authenticity of his character and experience.
Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers
Myers is ridiculously prolific and known for his raw, authentic writing. In this book, he chronicles the tour of several misfits just trying to survive Operation Iraqi Freedom, just trying to come home. Birdy and his comrades are assigned to Civil Affairs, a unit meant to work with civilians, but it soon becomes clear that war doesn't operate along neat lines and convenient demarcations. Myers is also notable in that his narrator is a black young man and his cast includes prominent women--two groups vastly underrepresented in all literature, but perhaps even more starkly absent in stories of war.
Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer
This book has particular relevance. It follows Ben, a boy with a charmed life who enlists in the military to deal with the specters of 9/11. While on duty in Iraq, Ben's convoy is hit by an IED and he suffers a traumatic brain injury that puts him into a coma for two months. When he wakes, his memories of life before the trauma are foggy, and he must navigate a world he doesn't understand. The amnesiac bit sounds a little melodramatic--I have not read this yet, so I can't speak to that--but the reality of PTSD and TBI in the Iraq war is very real and affects thousands of vets.
What are your favorite books about or written by vets?