Friday, August 30, 2013

Kid Soldier by Jennifer Maruno

TITLE: Kid Soldier
AUTHOR: Jennifer Maruno
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Dundurn / August 31, 2013
SOURCE: For Review from Publisher via Netgalley

Goodreads / Author's Website

I have a slight obsession with historical fiction and by slight I mean massive. I can't get enough of it. Like almost all of my favourite books take place in another era. I was a history major, focused on Canadian history. That having been said, I don't love every piece of historical fiction that I read. I still appreciate strong character development and narrative as I do with any other book. I think that's where Jennifer Maruno's Kid Soldier fell short for me. It wasn't a terrible book my any means. It just didn't tick all of the boxes.

So Kid Soldier follows fifteen year old Richard Fuller in the days leading up to and during the Second World War. Richard's a pretty average depression era teenager. He's worried about money, works hard to help support his mother, but also just kind of wants a bike. However, when he's introduced to military life by one of his employers and sort of surrogate father he becomes infatuated and right at the time war hits. He participates in a military camp under an assumed name and then later enlists despite being underage. The rest of the book follows his experiences as an underage soldier overseas during World War Two.

When I first saw this book on Netgalley I knew I had to read it. It sounded so interesting. First off, Richard is Canadian and it's so rare to find historical fiction with a focus on the particular experiences of a Canadian protagonist. Additionally, underage soldiers are like never addressed in fiction. Here's a book that's both. The super geeky historian in me was over the moon. I still love the concept. I just didn't totally love the book itself.

Richard seemed like a pretty interesting character. What was with his obsession with the army? I think it's because the father he never met was in it as was the man who became a father-like figure. However, I'm not positive. I don't feel like I really know Richard. I know about him. I know things that happened to him, that he's experienced, but I don't know him. I was completely disconnected from Richard which was a problem for me.

Most of the book just shows small snippets of Richard's life. We move from one event to the next. I appreciated the story's historical accuracy and it's attention to detail. I loved that Maruno took such a strong interest in these aspects of the book (and if you read past the last line of the actual book itself you'll see how personally invested she was in this book). All of that was great and it's sorely lacking in so many other books.

Here's the thing, I keep coming back to that feeling that I don't know Richard. He did things, but I didn't get to understand his psychology. I didn't know the people around him. I saw what they did. I read about times they got hurt or into trouble, but I didn't feel connected to them. They just weren't well drawn characters. I didn't care about what happened to any of them because of it.

I got through this book quickly and was interested in the situations, but I felt like that was all there was to this book. People weren't a huge factor and if I don't feel any sort of connection to the characters I can't get really into the book. I do think that Kid Soldier is a worthwhile read and I would have loved reading a book like this when I was a child taking social studies. It's great, engaging way to get kids into history and I love that it explores some little known aspects of history. I'm just not totally sure that it stands on it's own as a great fictional story.

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