Three powerful books make strong statements about what war does to kids' hearts and minds.
"Waiting for Eugene," by Sallie Lowenstein (Lion Stone Books, $19) examines what the trauma of one generation can do to traumatize the next. A unnamed war has taken a horrible toll on 12-year-old Sara's brilliant architect father, who lived through it as a child. The delusions he suffers years later leave Sara to cope with his strange behavior and seek ways to ease his pain.
Lowenstein's descriptions of the father's anxiety are so real that the reader feels as protective of him as Sara does. As he works his way toward what may be a resolution of sorts, he inspires hope that someone can live through the worst and still be a whole person.
Sara is a brave, believable heroine, but still a child. And consequently, readers will worry about her and embrace her as a friend in need.
Lowenstein's insightful art adds another dimension to the drama.
"Georgie's Moon," by Chris Woodworth (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16), approaches the Vietnam War from a seventh-grade girl's standpoint. Faced with the stark reality of having her father fighting on the other side of the world, Georgie develops behavioral problems. A gradually blossoming friendship with a classmate at first offers slight benefits and eventually helps Georgie fight her inner demons.
Woodworth offers no easy answers in this look at the controversial war. Well thought-out insights into some of the complex questions will give kids the tools to deal with tough issues.
The character of Georgie will resonate with children who don't always find it easy to be "good kids." Her transformation into a caring, thoughtful human being is as impressive as it is believable.
"Amaryllis" by Craig Crist-Evans (Candlewick paperback, $7.95), also focuses on Vietnam, but in a harsher light for more mature readers. It takes someone 14 or older to grasp the battlefield sequences, which are compelling and chilling.
Focusing on the close relationship between a high schooler and his soldier brother, "Amaryllis" would be desolate if it were not for the author's determination to show light as well as darkness in their lives. War is hard for them both, but the end finds a ray of hope that will buoy those who enter this difficult world.