Thursday, June 17, 2010

This month’s book: Shooting the Moon by Frances O’Roark Dowell

I was hooked on this book from the very first sentence, "The day after my brother left for Vietnam, me and Private Hollister played thirty-seven hands of gin rummy, and I won twenty-one." Jamie Dexter is a card shark, and an army brat. She and her brother TJ grew up in the army. Their father, who they call the Colonel, liked to say, "The army way is the right way," and they believed it. Jamie tells her own story, and she lets you know right off the bat how confident she is, but you can hear a hint of how much she will come to learn during the course of the story. "I was six months away from turning thirteen and I thought I knew everything." It's the summer of 1969, and TJ enlists in the Medical Corps instead of going to college like his family had planned. Jamie doesn't understand why her father isn't happy --she and TJ have always believed that going to war is the greatest thing possible. She thinks it must be her mother who is putting pressure on the Colonel to get TJ to stay home. She asks TJ to write her letters, but instead he sends her rolls of black and white film, and tells her to develop it herself at the rec center. Jamie started volunteering at the rec center just before her brother left, and has struck up a friendship with Private Hollister. He introduces her to another soldier who teaches her how to work in the darkroom. At first, TJ's pictures are of the landscape and some of the nurses he works with. But with each roll of film he sends her, the images become more disturbing, and she is reluctant to develop them. He also shoots pictures of the moon, his favorite subject. Things come to a head when Jamie finds out that her friend Private Hollister may be sent to Vietnam, where his brother was already killed. This story is about the war in Vietnam, but mostly it's about a family and a girl growing up in a difficult time. Review by Stacy Church