It’s strange to consider that a story that took place in 1965 can be termed historical fiction – but only because I was a teenager at that time. Shahan’s use of her friends’ notes and letters from that year, along with news blurbs and excerpts from famous speeches, skillfully recreates the volatility and fast-paced change of the times, seen from the teenagers’ points of view. For me, it was almost painful to read notes and poems that could have been written by myself and my own friends, and to feel again all that adolescent angst and fury at mindless authorities condemning our young men to die in the insect-ridden swamps of Vietnam. I cannot help but wonder what today’s young readers will make of it. I can imagine that the boyfriend-girlfriend issues and arguments and feelings are pretty much the same no matter what the date – sex, drugs, and rock‘n’roll all over again – and it seems as if there’s been “an unwinnable war” of some kind going on for the last forty years, so that part’s rather timely, too.
This is a quick and engaging read, and Shahan’s small group of friends becomes intimately known to us through their writing. What a shame that a similar “box full of letters” will never exist for today’s teenagers to stumble upon in their middle-aged attics, unless they save and print out all their emails and tweets. I guess, in the end, that fact alone makes this book properly “historical,” along with those of us who lived back then. I think adults will enjoy reading Purple Daze just as much, or maybe more than, the kids.