It’s April 1, 1945. Hideki, 14, stayed in Okinawa when his mother and younger brother evacuated to mainland Japan. He was 13 then, but near enough to 14 to feel he should stay and fight. The time has come—and it’s even worse than he had feared. The Japanese officer in charge of the middle school boy-soldiers has given them each two grenades. One is to kill as many American soldiers as possible, and the other is to be used to commit suicide.
Meanwhile, 18-year-old Ray Majors is a freckle-faced Marine from Nebraska. His father beat him when he tried to sign up before he turned 18, but after that birthday, his father knew he couldn’t stop him. Now Ray is among the waves of men storming Okinawa’s beaches.
Alan Gratz has told a marvelous story that the publisher says is for 9- to 12-year-old readers but is actually a fine tale for anyone with an interest in Okinawa or what war is really like. Spoiler alert: Grenade isn’t going to encourage anyone to sign up.
Gratz’s story is believable and, although there are no descriptions of blood and guts, I think it pushes the edges for the youngest readers; 9 may be too young for this one. Gratz writes his story with sympathy, even for the Japanese soldiers. I couldn’t put the book down once I began it, and plan to pass it along to an 11-year-old. Recommended.