Review: Shooting the Moon by Frances O’Roark Dowell
It’s About: Jamie is a confident, exuberant and normal 12-year-old army brat, who idolizes her father and refers to him simply as “the colonel.” When her brother TJ enlists as an army medic and gets sent to Vietnam, Jamie can’t contain her pride and is “combat ready” for the exciting military details she’s sure he’ll share with her in letters, but all she receives are rolls of film TJ needs developed. No letters. Only images of huts, tanks, wounded soldiers, nameless faces, and the moon. As time progresses, the shots of the reality of the war in Vietnam TJ continues to share with her take their toll, and Jamie’s once “combat ready” opinion of the war subsides while her opinion of the colonel goes through its own metamorphosis.
I Thought: This was a simple read on the surface, but oh so complex in its implications. At its core, Shooting the Moon is a coming-of-age story and the complexities of a relationship between a daughter and her father. On the surface, this book is about family, friendship, family life in the military, developing new talents, and acceptance.
Author Frances O’Roark Dowell builds just enough tension to keep the story compelling through protagonist Jamie’s delightful first-person telling. Jamie’s innocence and acceptance of life as she knew it approach felt believable and spot-on. I liked Jamie. I loved her summer-long gin rummy tournament with Private Hollister, her childhood memories of playing army with her brother, her sharp mind, and her adoration of her father.
Because the book is short, I expected it to be overly simplistic, and it’s anything but. Mrs. Dowell’s ability to accurately portray the subtle nuances of this family’s relationships with one another, and to capture their emotional pulse is refreshing and real. I was emotionally invested in the outcome of the story, and believe readers of all ages will appreciate the underlying messages waiting for everyone.
Verdict: This is a great book for parents and children to read separately, but discuss together. It would be a great introduction to a conversation on the Vietnam War and what constituted the conflict, why the United States was involved, and the heavy price we paid for our participation.
Reading Recommendation: grades 4-8