This review is part of my Two Weeks of Thanks to book publisher Merit Press. They have generously and continuously provided me with books to review over the past two years.
During World War II, Guam, an American territory, was occupied by the Japanese. They committed many atrocities, including the rape of local women on the island. These soldiers were also taught that the Japanese emperor was a god, and that if you had to, you would commit suicide rather than be captured by the enemy. So when American bombers flew overhead and distributed leaflets that the war was over, and Japan lost, many Japanese soldiers killed themselves rather than submit to the winning side. This, along with the long-held belief of shame to one’s family, caused those who could not go through with death to hide. On Guam, these men were called stragglers.
Lance Corporal Isamu Seto is such a man. Refusing to surrender, he and two other soldiers go into hiding in the jungle. For 13 years, they lived off of the land, but when the neighboring village began to grow closer to their cave, they moved underground. The two privates perished, leaving Seto to live alone for eight years, a total of 28 since the war ended.
Kiko Chargalauf has to help his parents at their tourist shop, Sammy’s Quonset Hut. It’s named after Kiko’s older brother who is off flying missions in Vietnam. Against his mother’s wishes, Sammy signed up while attending graduate school for engineering in Hawaii. On top of the stress of his brother being gone, Kiko’s maternal grandfather, Tatan Bihu, is struggling with Alzheimer’s. He even charges a Japanese tourist with his machete, yelling about this man raping his daughter. Is this true? Could his mother have been raped when she was only his age by the occupiers? The only lights in Kiko’s life right now are his best friend, Tomas, and his crush, Daphne.
Both Kiko and Seto are struggling with freedom, or more precisely, the lack thereof. As Tatan grows worse, it is Kiko who must stay with his grandfather to make sure he doesn’t wander off or try to attack any more unfortunate tourists. And Kiko’s parents constant sadness about her eldest son’s absence fills their house. Seto battles with ghosts from his past, his advancing age and the shame his family will have for his failure to end his life.
When these two worlds collide, will it be retaliation or forgiveness?
Whadja Think?: While not sure this book would hold my interest (I thought it was going to be dry), I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. There’s no huge BAM in the plot, but alternating back and forth between the two main characters helped to maintain my interest. Sometimes, this tool is unpleasant when you like one person’s story more than the other, but I found myself rooting for Seto to make it out alive and hoping that Kiko gets all he wants out of life. Reading about everyday life in 1972 Guam, sort of balancing on the precipice between modern and the old way of life, was compelling.
To Read or Not To Read: Yes. You don’t need to be interested in war to like this book; it is so much more than that.
No Surrender Soldier by Christine Kohler was published January 1, 2014 by Merit Press. A free copy of this book was given to Ink and Page in return for an honest review. Big thanks to Merit Press and the Author.
Genre: Young Adult Fiction Historical Action/Adventure
Ages: 13 and up
You Might Want to Know: Nothing of note