Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two

Written by Joseph Bruchac
Review by Lisa Ann Verge

Joseph Bruchac has created a wise, big-hearted character in Ned Begay, the Navajo narrator of this riveting WWII novel. Though thrust at a tender age into an American school, where he was beaten if he spoke his native language, and told repeatedly that his beliefs and customs were wrong, Ned Begay holds tight to his own culture, without bitterness. When the U.S. government arrives, seeking those very language skills that the school tried to beat out of him, Ned signs up with pride, but not swagger. He joins the Marines and becomes part of a secret group of radio operators who develop a code based on the Navajo language. Soon he is shipped off to the Pacific, and here the narrative intensifies—in Guam, Iwo Jima, Okinawa—where Ned and his friends (white and Navajo) fight, bleed, and look into the eye of death. Ned survives but discovers upon returning home that the war and his sacrifice has not eradicated bigotry. This does not defeat him: Ned is a sure and balanced man, big enough to ignore petty insults. He sets his mind on improving the living conditions of his own people, and later in life receives the honors he’d always deserved. Code Talker is an intense, well-researched, and clearly written novel of courage and convictions, for adults both young and otherwise. (Ages 12+)