They rowed hard, away from the battleships and the bombs. Water sprayed over them. The rowboat pitched one way and then the other. Then, before his eyes, the Arizona lifted up out of the water. That enormous battleship bounced up in the air like a rubber ball and split apart. Fire burst out of the ship. A geyser of water shot into the air and came crashing down. Adam was almost thrown out of the rowboat. He clung to the seat as it swung around. He saw blue skies and the glittering city. The boat swung back again, and he saw black clouds, and the Arizona, his father's ship, sinking beneath the water.
-- from A Boy at War
"He kept looking up, afraid the planes would come back. The sky was obscured by black smoke....It was all unreal: the battleships half sunk, the bullet holes in the boat, Davi and Martin in the water."
December 7, 1941:
On a quiet Sunday morning, while Adam and his friends are fishing near Honolulu, a surprise attack by Japanese bombers destroys the fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Even as Adam struggles to survive the sudden chaos all around him, and as his friends endure the brunt of the attack, a greater concern hangs over his head: Adam's father, a navy lieutenant, was stationed on the USS Arizona when the bombs fell. During the subsequent days Adam -- not yet a man, but no longer a boy -- is caught up in the war as he desperately tries to make sense of what happened to his friends and to find news of his father.
Harry Mazer, whose autobiographical novel, The Last Mission, brought the European side of World War II to vivid life, now turns to the Pacific theater and how the impact of war can alter young lives forever.
Mazer's (The Last Mission) taut adventure adopts the perspective of a 14-year-old newly arrived in Hawaii to capture the chaos surrounding the unexpected attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Adam is fishing near Pearl Harbor when the bombs are dropped. "That sounds so real," he says to himself at the first explosions, not yet believing the planes and noise are not part of a war exercise or maybe a movie. Taken for a navy man, he is thrown into the attempts to save lives. As the attack continues, the resulting confusion is reflected in staccato and impressionistic language: "The water around the once-proud battleship was thick with oil, and it stunk. Smoke and filth. Life rafts, pieces of boats, and men floundered in the watery debris.... A foot, an arm. He saw everything through a red haze. He ran. He slipped in blood." As the turmoil subsides, the effect on Adam of a "whole life lived in that one day" is immediate and profound. A day earlier he was struggling to measure himself against his navy lieutenant father, only to lose his father in the sunken USS Arizona and become a man himself. Mazer successfully fuses a strong portrayal of Adam's transformation with both a vivid account of the attack and subtle suggestions of the complexities of Japanese-American relations as played out in particular lives. Expert work. Ages 10-14.