Sunrise Over Fallujah - by Walter Dean Myers
"Myers doesn't sugarcoat what happens, but it doesn't glorify it either."
"If I ever have kids, I think I won't tell them much about what I did here, or what I've seen. I'll tell them something because I'll want them to know about war. But are there really enough words to make them understand?" This quote by protagonist Robin "Birdie" Perry, sums up author Walter Dean Myers' message about what war has become in his novel Sunrise Over Fallujah. Myers, an army veteran and author of the critically acclaimed Vietnam War book Fallen Angels, skips no detail when describing both the rules and lifestyles of the soldiers serving overseas. He does his best to create an accurate military base and operation.
Sunrise Over Fallujah is a PG-13 war-novel that follows the story of a young man named Robin Perry who signs up to join the army after the 9-11 terrorist attack instead of attending college, a decision that would divide him and his father. Perry must learn to adapt to the way of life of a soldier, even of one in Civil Affairs (CA), a branch that tries to help build ties with the Iraqis. From learning what it's like to shoot at people and be shot at to making friends with his squad mates and mourning their deaths, Perry goes through a whirlpool of emotions as he deals with the stress of war. As a main character, Perry is the classic undecided hero. He has no clue what he wants to do with his life, just being led along by his father. Myers does a good job here as Perry's lack of knowledge about God, life, and war shows a new perspective on the issues as he develops into a troubled young man that struggles with everyday beliefs.
Perry's supporting cast, primarily made up of his squad, include: Jonesy, a blues guitar player from Georgia with dreams of owning his own club; Marla, an orphan who has learned to toughen up after many trips through foster care; and Captain Coles, a weary war veteran who battles with decisions over leading his men into danger. Here is where Myers' ability shines, with each character in contrast to Perry and still struggling with the same problems as him. Jonesy, often a source of comic relief, represents those who know what they want from life and will someday reach it. His irrational beliefs and assumptions about life often falter when face to face with the horrors of war. Or Marla, toughness and closed-off from a lifetime of different families, proves to still be bothered by war. However, it is also with the supporting characters that Myers' sometimes seems to struggle. The dialogue and interactions between the characters were sometimes stiff, awkward, and seemed forced, in my opinion. Myers seemed to have difficulty making the conversations flow naturally, and occasionally characters said or did unnatural things to move plot points forward.
In the end though, Sunrise Over Fallujah teaches young adults about the true nature and horrors of war, compared to what they see in movies or play in games. While there is a notable absence of foul language, and alcohol, cigarettes, and other "stress-relieving" items, it does not take away from the novel as it is a young adult novel. Myer's achieves this goal, using short, quick moments of conflict followed by long periods with civilian interactions and periods of introspection by Perry. He brings to the forefront important issues of war and how the nature of war itself has changed. His novel doesn't sugarcoat what happens, but it doesn't glorify it either. He attempts to give an accurate picture of the truth of war, asking the questions that our soldiers go through and don't answer, leaving a striking sense of confusion as you attempt to untangle your thoughts and emotions on the war.
All in all, though, Myers' novel is a well-written dramatic war novel that asks questions about the war not seen in much of today's media. I would whole-heartedly recommend this novel to anyone interested in Young Adult novels or reading about war.
- Thomas S.
"Myers redefines the parameters of the war story."
In his novel Sunrise Over Fallujah, Walter Dean Myers redefines the parameters of the war story. Myers uses engaging and realistic dialogue to make his character seem more life-like. From the Harlem, NY raised main character - Robin "Birdy" Perry, to the blues-obsessed best friend "Jonesy," each character seems as if you were sitting in their camp with them after a mission. The imagery the reader gets from the perspective of Robin is incredible and I was affected by his thoughts. When he was sad, I felt sad. When he felt proud, I felt my own chest swell with patriotism. And when he was scared and confused, I felt like I was right next to him, whether that be in a crumbling building or in his squad's Humvee. By the time I finally put this novel down (and trust me, I didn't want to!) I felt like the characters were old friends.
Why does Myers' writing style work so well with this particular story-line? It helps when you can relate to your characters. Like Birdy, Myers grew up in Harlem. Also his father's wishes for his son to earn a degree were forgone when Myers dropped out of high school to join the army, in which he proudly served for three years.
Not that I would be able to verify it, but Myers' depiction of the Iraqis seems to be accurate, unlike many stories that dramatize every situation. Some depict the Iraqis as radical patriots, others as worshipers of the great-and-mighty Americans. Myers' descriptions show us a nation of people who are just ready for stability and peace, an end to their suffering. I felt sympathy for them, which I hadn't really thought about before. I always saw them as the gunmen, the bad guys. In Fallujah, we see that they are merely victims of a cruel, cruel system that they don't seem to factor well into.
I understand that theology isn't something we're "allowed" to discuss in school, but it seems to be a kind of underlying theme of this story that I felt the need to comment on. Based on the way the different characters react to different situations, you can clearly see the way they view God. Some viewed him as someone to blame when things went wrong. Others say him as someone who hadn't shown up in their lives, and therefore, they didn't want his hlep. There were obviously a devout few, but still, I think the most intriguing and more intelligent were those who weren't entirely sure but never really doubted.
One thing I didn't quite like was that Robin seemed to offer conflicting ideas and emotions in his letter to his Uncle Richie and in his own thoughts. Perhaps Myers was just illustrating how we aren't the same on the outside as we are on the inside. Maybe Robin didn't want to upset his uncle with concepts that might differ from his. What do you think? Oh, wait. You haven' read it yet. Time to get started!