By Joseph Bruchac
Dial Books, 2005. 231 pgs. Teen fiction
From the time he is sent to a boarding school run by whites and assigned a new name, Ned Begay is told that being Navajo is a bad thing. He's not allowed to speak his native language and is constantly told that only by leaving his heritage behind can he amount to anything. However, when Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, the Marine Corps suddenly has a need for Navajos who can speak both their native tongue and English. The first twenty-nine Navajos recruited devise a code to convey messages, based on their native tongue, and Ned, in the second wave of Navajo recruitments, becomes one of the code talkers vital to the success of the Marine Corps as they fight to retake American territories in the Pacific as well as establish a presence on Iwo Jima and Okinowa.
This is a fascinating piece of historical fiction, showing the contribution of the Navajos to the armed forces during WWII. I particularly enjoyed the details about how the code was developed and taught, as well as the incorporation of Navajo traditions into the story. Some of the military details bogged down the story for me, but I think others who are interested in war stories wouldn't mind that at all.
One thing I didn't like about the novel was that it talked about the cruelty of the Japanese military in their treatment of prisoners of war and when they took over Pacific Islands even put the native peoples in concentration camps, but it didn't mention at all how the Japanese in the U.S. were rounded up and stripped of their homes and everything as they were forced to live in concentration camps. While Bruchac did talk about how many of the Japanese (in Japan) didn't agree with the war, there seemed to me to be a slight imbalance by pointing out what the Japanese army did wrong and not what the U.S. did wrong.
Overall, great book. I wish there were more books out there by American Indian authors.
4 stars. Clean read, other than a little, little bit of language.