Friday, October 2, 2009
Banned Book Week REVIEW: Fallen Angels
Meyers, Walter Dean. (1988). Fallen Angels.
309 pages -- 0-590-40943-3
Thirty Second Summary: Richie Perry’s a seventeen-year-old basketball player from Harlem. He tries to be a good role model for his brother Kenny. He’s got a knee injury that should have kept him out of the war, but due to a mix-up, his medical files have gone missing and he’s shipped overseas to Vietnam. His only goal now is getting out alive.
Fallen Angels is one of my failsafe book recommendations for my male friends who “can’t find anything to read.” (This isn't to say girls won't enjoy it -- I certainly did, at age fifteen -- but guys are more drawn to the cover, I think.) It’s exciting, it’s tense, it’s occasionally funny, and at times downright terrifying. It’s a war story, but also a political statement… with some regular old teenage drama thrown in for good measure. If you’re uncomfortable with introspective moments, though, this may not be the novel for you. Fallen Angels will make you ask yourself what you would do, and how you would change, in the situation in which Perry finds himself.
Banned because of vulgar language, sexual explicitness, and graphic violence. Oh, and drug abuse, and torture. And slang terms for homosexuals, and racial epithets.
I’m sorry. Are we not talking about the Vietnam War? I don’t recall that was a time filled with polite discourse and hugs and puppies. Vietnam, as one of the characters puts it, is “like a trip to friggin’ hell.” So yes. There is killing. There is a lot of killing, and all of it is senseless. Soldiers die, civilians die, babies die, and Perry finds it every bit as confusing and disgusting and terrifying as the reader does. There is also vulgar language, and torture, and sexual explicitness, all of which is representative of the situations the soldiers found themselves in.
I’m not saying that you should give this book to a seven-year-old, any more than I’d suggest handing them a copy of The Things They Carried, or letting them watch the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. I do, however, find it slightly ironic that high school students as young as those who fought in the war are now being banned from reading about that time period.
This is an incredibly powerful novel, and an incredibly powerful anti-war statement. There is none of the great, sweeping war-story romance one would expect in a book aimed at teenage boys, but neither does it come off as preachy. If we lose the reality of war, and only hold on to the Guns and Glory aspect of the thing, we’re setting ourselves up for further senseless conflict – young adults, who are capable of enlisting in the military, should certainly understand every aspect and implication of their decisions.
Quotes of Note:
We were supposed to smile a lot and treat the people with dignity. They were supposed to think we were the good guys. That bothered me a little. I didn’t like having to convince anybody that I was the good guy. That was where we were supposed to start from. We, the Americans, were the good guys. Otherwise it didn’t make the kind of sense I wanted it to make. (p. 112)
“Vietnam don’t mean nothing, man,” Johnson said. “We could do the same thing someplace else. We just over here killing people to let everybody know we gonna do it if it got to be done.” (p. 149)
I stopped for a moment to look at the bodies of two old men, their arms around each other in death. I saw them even after I turned away. (p. 178)
I went to the john and puked my guts out. I was scared…. I couldn’t breathe, my hands were sweating. What would I do? I had heard of guys running away to Sweden. How the hell did you get to Sweden from Nam? Was there still a Sweden to run to? (p. 217)
Tasty Rating: !!!!!