Heroes: A Novel of Pearl Harbor

Written by Alan Gratz
Review by John Kachuba

Frank and Stanley are the best of friends, living an idyllic life in Hawaii, where their fathers are stationed at the Pearl Harbor US naval base. There is a war raging in Europe but that is far away, and America has not yet been dragged into it. The boys spend happy days on Oahu working together on creating superhero comic books; Stanley is a talented illustrator, and Frank’s words bring the stories to life.

On a sunny Sunday in December, the boys are touring one of the many formidable battleships of the US Pacific Fleet when the unthinkable happens. Wave after wave of Japanese airplanes suddenly appear in the skies overhead, and in seconds, the peaceful tranquility of Pearl Harbor becomes a living hell of death and destruction. The boys are caught in the midst of it all and must escape for their lives as bombs burst and bullets whizz around them.

Their world changes in the aftermath of the attack, especially for Stanley, whose mother is Japanese-American. The racist paranoia levelled against Americans of Japanese descent chills the boys’ friendship and separates them. Will they ever see each other again?

This is an exciting page-turner of a novel. The history is well researched but never becomes heavy-handed. There are important themes underlying the history as Frank discovers courage he never knew he had, and both boys, in different ways, are forced to deal with the trauma of racism. This thrilling and moving novel is highly recommended.