Friday, May 21, 2021

Enduring Freedom

Arash, Jawad and Reedy, Trent. Enduring Freedom
May 18th 2021 by Algonquin Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

9/11 was a historical event with many ramifications all around the world. In Iowa, it affects Joe Killian, who has recently enlisted in the army reserves. When he hears the news of the Twin Towers attack in his senior year journalism class, he goes to the office to check to see if he has orders to report for duty. He doesn't, but these come later, when he is just starting college. For Baheer, who lives in Kabul, the effect is more immediate and dire. Afghanistan has had years of war, dealing with the Russians, and then with the increasing strictures of the Taliban. These struggles have sent Baheer and his family to Pakistan for a wile, but after 9/11, his grandfather decides to move the extended family to a farm in the remote village of Farah, and to try to run the family rug making business from there. Told in alternating chapters, we see Joe struggle with basic training and with his deployment. He's somewhat disappointed that his unit is going to be working on projects with the Provincial Reconstruction Teams instead of fighting with the infantry. He had wanted to utilize his journalism background to write about intense situations, but thinks that he won't see enough action. Baheer's family, on the other hand, sees all too much. When Joe's unit is sent to Farah, the local people aren't quite sure about having Americans around. Still, when they ask the Americans to move because their generators make too much noise at night, the Americans are amenable. They also hire local men to transport items by truck, and pay generously. Baheer, who has studied English, talks to Joe, and the two form a tentative friendship over time. Baheer's family buys a truck to help support the family, since the farm and business aren't doing well. Baheer has decided to work on the farm rather than go to school, but over time decides that schooling has its benefits. He also see a girl who goes to school frequently, and even though it is forbidden, writes her a note, and gets one in return. He hopes to get his sister Maryam the chance to attend school. When the Taliban highjacks a truck filled with weapons, Baheer finds out about it, but does nothing. When this results in tragedy, both Joe and Baheer need to find their way forward. 
Strengths: This is a well balanced look at both life in the military and life in a besieged country, and the fact that it is written by authors who have those backgrounds and who met in Afghanistan is wonderful. There are so many good details about every day life and pivotal events that would not be as clearly evocative without that personal experience. I especially liked Joe's surprise that the fighting wouldn't be like a WWII movie, and that he would be engaged in peace keeping and reconstruction. The shout out to Ernie Pyle was one that I appreciated, and might encourage readers to look up this journalist. In the same way, Baheer's disenchantment with education under the cruel teachers of the Taliban, and his growing desire to learn when exposed to information on his own was heartwarming and teaches  an important lesson: educated people are a threat to totalitarian regimes. Of course, my readers will be very pleased with the details about basic training and the few scenes of fighting, which are brutally well done. Reedy also has the excellent Hunter's Choice out recently; he is writing up a storm! (Insert Desert Storm joke here; it's too early for my brain to engage!)
Weaknesses: This could have been tightened up a tiny bit, and sometimes it felt like one point of view went on too long and it was hard to shift to the other narrator. Dual perspective narratives are tricky this way. 
What I really think: This is a must purchase for any middle school and high school library. While there are still dozens of books published every year about WWII, there are relatively few about Operation Enduring Freedom (Spradlin's biography, Ryan Pitts : Afghanistan, Patterson's Operation Oleander, McKay's Thunder over Kandahar, Reedy's Words in the Dust and Massey's Torn are the only ones that come to mind.) 

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