7/3/11 ** A very interesting novel about a Navajo teen who enlisted in the Marines shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack; he joined a secret unit charged with creating and using a code based on the Navajo language to send messages throughout the Pacific theater. The story touches on issues with the Indian Schools, language extinction, stereotypes & cultural awareness, the irony of a government trying to stamp out a language and then needing it for military security, etc. However, even with these serious themes, the character is interesting and his story of developing and using the code during WWII is inherently compelling.
Though this is fiction, the narrator speaks of his own past experiences, making the book feel as if it's an autobiography being shared around a fire. The voice & narrator the author has chosen is interesting. The narrator is speaking to his grandchildren about his own days as a teen. As such, he can weave in facts that a soldier in the middle of the war wouldn't have known, for example about the warrior code followed by the Japanese soldiers and high command. Also, the narrator occasionally addresses his grandchildren directly, commenting on differences between when he was a child and their supposed experiences now. I could sense the tone of a native storyteller speaking about a weighty, though interesting topic.
I can picture a number of my 4th grade boys who were fascinated with war being interested in the blend of story, intense involvement with the fighting, and amount of history incorporated in this tale. The author, an Athabascan Indian, is active in native language preservation and has written several other books about the complex relations between Native peoples and the Whites in the U.S.