Author: Michael Morpurgo
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Challenges: YA (#16); Typically British (2)
FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school's library
Summary (from the inside flap): Private Tommo Peaceful has left his family behind. He has lied about his age. He has followed his older brother to France to fight in the First World War. Now, after living through the terror of gas attacks, watching childhood friends die by his side, and battling the lice, the rats, the mud, and the sheer exhaustion of staying alert, young Thomas has the biggest challenge of his life ahead of him. He has been ordered to stand night watch over the battlefields, where the enemy lurks in the darkness. If Thomas falls asleep, he will be shot.
As the minutes slowly tick by, Thomas' memories are full of his childhood spent deep in the countryside. His mother, his brothers, his first love, Molly, come vividly alive in his mind. But every moment Thomas spends thinking about his life means another moment closer to something he cannot bear to think about--a time when the war and its horrible consequences will change his life forever.
Review: Wow. What a wonderful book! My daughter read Morpurgo's War Horse aloud to me (it's also about WWI) and it was nice to read one of his books aimed at a slightly older audience. As a World History teacher for many years, WWI was always one of my favorite subjects to learn about and teach. I find not only the history of the war and the late 1910s interesting, but the culture of the soldiers and home front as well. Morpurgo captures this time period and events SO well!
I cared about the characters in this book immediately. Thomas (Tommo), his mother, their best friend Molly, and his older brothers Charlie and Big Joe (who has brain damage) are all likable and the reader will empathize with them from the start. Even the mean Colonel who runs the local farms is believable in his own horrible way.
Morpurgo set this book up in a clever way: each chapter title is a time that slowly ticks toward dawn as the book progresses. The first paragraph or so is what Thomas is thinking or doing at that time and the rest of the chapter is the unfolding of his story, from his life at age five when he starts school to his experiences in World War I. Each events builds on the previous, building suspense and pulling the reader into the lives of these people.
I also like the way Morpurgo writes. There is a sense of calm even when the events are terrible and tragic as they ought to be when reading about war and life's other hardships. However, that calmness doesn't mean it's easy to read. I worried, laughed, and got all teary during my reading of Private Peaceful.