Happy Saturday, Reading Nook readers!
Today, I'm reviewing The Secret of Midway, the first book in a new series called Ghosts of War by Steve Watkins.
I wasn't really sure what to expect when going into this book, but it's definitely insightful and challenging, and will keep readers thinking about big issues like war, and the people that are left behind.
Paperback, 208 pages
Expected publication: January 6th 2015 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Format read: ARC via publisher
Watkins’s tale of a trio of friends who join together to help a lonely WWII ghost remember his past and put him to rest, will undoubtedly move readers of all ages.
Later that evening the ghost of a World War II sailor appears in Anderson's room. Anderson is completely freaked out. Who is the ghost and why hasn't he crossed over? But most importantly, what does he want with Anderson?
Anderson, Greg, and Julie set out to find the truth and are soon wrapped up in a mystery that's over seventy years old. But it quickly becomes a race against the clock as they search to put the clues of sailor's life together before he vanishes for good. After everything he gave for his country, can Anderson, Julie, and Greg solve the mystery of the ghost before he disappears forever?
Things that worked:
While the book is Anderson-centric, Watkins also introduces great side characters in the form of Greg and Julie. Watkins shows how the three of them are stronger together, often helping each other’s attributes and faults, and also working together to become stronger friends.
Our ghost is a great secondary character as well, and we easily see how one young man could impact the lives of so many people with his actions.
The Secret of Midway is a ghost story with a ticking clock, and Watkins does a fine job of making sure readers feel fully integrated into Anderson, Greg and Julie’s lives, before starting the countdown.
Watkins expertly weaves in revelations and obstacles as the trio attempt to help their ghostly friend, and does so in a way where readers will gasp with every setback, and delight in every accomplishment. I know I was actually nervous as time began to run out, and I don’t get nervous easily!
Watkins does a great job of building up Anderson, Greg and Julie’s world, including their band and their world, for this book and (presumably) future books.
However, he also shows how their world intersects with the world of their new ghostly friend, and how facets of their life which they’ve never considered before – e.g. Julie’s grandfather had a role in the war himself; or the fact that their ghost friend was just a teenager with similar interests like them, when he left for war – all connect them to a far-off time.
Reflecting on World War II
Because this is a book about WWII, Watkins makes it a point to highlight key aspects of warfare, ranging from leaving war sweethearts behind to suffering from temporary hysteria in a moment of crisis.
Watkins always hits the right notes in each case, going deep enough for readers to understand the full spectrum of a situation, without adding so many details that it would be overwhelming for a younger reader.
I think that many a young reader will likely be interested in learning more about the war after reading this book, and educators and parents should take the opportunity to have engaged discussions.
The deeper issues
While Watkins does a great job of streamlining the overall war for younger readers, I was especially impressed at his thoughtful inclusion of the Asian concept of saving face.
There is an instance of saving face in the book, which almost derails our trio of young protagonists from their task. Watkins thoughtfully explains the purpose behind it, but also makes sure to never criticize or critique that sort of response.
As someone who is Asian, and has seen a spectrum of responses regarding WWII, I think that including this in a book is a great way of opening up young minds to different cultural concepts early on. I’m thankful to Watkins for that.
I challenge anyone to read that ending, and not tear up a little. Bravo, Mr. Watkins. Bravo.
Things that didn't work:
There is enough there to keep readers of all ages engaged, and I’m very excited to share this book with other readers in my life – as I’m sure you will too.
I definitely recommend this for younger readers, who are looking for a great book about friendship, warfare and bridging the cultural divide. Educators and parents will likely be faced with questions about World War II and the Battle of Midway after reading, and should take this as an opportunity to gently ease readers into an introduction of the Second World War.
I also recommend this book for older readers who are looking for something a little different in a children’s book. This book is a great reminder that there are writers out there who are continuing to change the literary field for the better.