Monday, June 3, 2019

MMGM: Grenade by Alan Gratz


It's 1945, and the world is in the grip of war.

Hideki lives on the island of Okinawa, near Japan. When WWII crashes onto his shores, Hideki is drafted into the Blood and Iron Student Corps to fight for the Japanese army. He is handed a grenade and a set of instructions: Don't come back until you've killed an American soldier.

Ray, a young American Marine, has just landed on Okinawa. He doesn't know what to expect -- or if he'll make it out alive. He just knows that the enemy is everywhere.

Hideki and Ray each fight their way across the island, surviving heart-pounding ambushes and dangerous traps. But when the two of them collide in the middle of the battle, the choices they make in that instant will change everything.

From the acclaimed author of Refugee comes this high-octane story of how fear can tear us apart, and how hope can tie us back together.


Fourteen-year-old Hideki is shocked when he is given two grenades and told to use one to kill American soldiers with it before killing himself with the other one.  With no training and scared out of his mind, Hideki hides with the other middle school boys after the Japanese soldiers send them off to fight.

Ray, an eighteen-year-old marine, is stunned by the horrors of combat, both the loss of teammates and how easily the others seem to kill, even those who aren't soldiers.  Before long though the shock and fear teach him the concept of kill or be killed.  But he can't let go of his morals so easily.  As he experiences the horrors of the battle, he begins to collect photographs that he comes across in buildings or on the bodies of the dead.  These remind him that all involved are human beings despite their efforts to destroy each other.

Hideki struggles to survive as he flees from battle to cave and eventually to his family's tomb where he watches his father die.  His father makes him promise to find his sister, Kimiko, the only remaining member of his family that lives and he sets off to find her.  But he can't avoid the fighting and his encounters with both American and Japanese soldiers as well as Okinawan civilians leave him wondering who the monsters really are.

When Ray and Hideki run into each other, only one survives, leaving the other to try to cope.

Alan Gratz has written a powerful story of the horrors of war, but also the resilience of the human soul.  The book is compelling and moves quickly from the very first page.  Despite the focus on the actions of the characters, Gratz manages to invest the story with powerful themes of humanity in the midst of war, and the incredible dangers of fear.  I was reminded once again that no one who experiences it is left untouched by war.  To be honest, the book is rather heartbreaking which means it isn't going to suit all readers.  Gratz, as usual, does not talk down to his readers, and he uses some of the actual language that would have been used at the time, and he doesn't hesitate to show just how horrific war can be.  A powerful war story about survival and hope in the midst of awful conditions that will leave it's mark on those who read it.

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