Posted by : Deborah Takahashi Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Plot Summary:
In order to escape the streets, Perry has signed up to fight the war in Vietnam. Although he has aspirations of making something of himself, he knows staying home won't get him anywhere. After landing in Vietnam, Perry meets a cast of characters who have their own reasons, and issues, as to why they volunteered. For instance, Pee Wee. For the lack of a better description, Pee Wee is nuts. Like Perry, Pee Wee is from the Projects who hung out with the wrong crowd. In fact, Pee Wee inadvertently signed up for the Army because his buddy wanted to join, but was turned down because he was "rowdy." Jenkins, another newbie, is scared out of his mind and didn't take to Pee Wee's antics when it came to fighting. After orientation, Perry and company were called into the field and the fear that Perry had been trying to keep at bay was slowly taking over. For Pee Wee, this should have been a moment of elation, but Perry knew better that Pee Wee was all talk because he could also see the fear in Pee Wee's eyes. When they landed in Chu Lai, Perry, Pee Wee, and Jenkins were assigned to Alpha unit where they meet Johnson (a rather large and intimidating Southerner), Lobel (a movie buff), and Brunner (a suck-up). Although the reality of war has yet to set in, an accident occurs that conveys to these young men that war is very real and very scary. Although these young men have very little in common, the quickly learn to put their differences aside when they are sent to the front line. In fact, all Perry can think of is getting out Vietnam and relocating to Hawaii where he would enroll in the University of Hawaii. Unfortunately, that dream will have to wait because all he can think about is staying alive. The more action Perry and his fellow soldiers see, they more they realize that war is nothing like the movies they watch. In fact, they start wondering why Alpha group (an all-Black unit) is always the one sent in first. In this horrifying account of war, a group of men are forced to grow up and fight a war that eventually loses its meaning and the loss of life is catastrophic. To this day, the Vietnam War is one of the darkest moments in American history. 

Critical Evaluation:
Walter Dean Myers is one of those author's who knows how to get in the reader's head and force them to adsorb every word that is on the page. Most people don't know this about me, but I am a huge war movie fan and this story is written so well that I can visualize every detail. I cannot begin to imagine what these soldiers saw and it is absolutely heart-breaking. Perry wanted nothing more then to escape the streets and they only way he could do is to enlist. As a young, Black male, Perry's options were limited and it's almost the only way (at the time) he could progress, and get an education, is to join the Army. Granted, he is not the only one to join the service under these circumstances, it is still really hard to believe that these brave young men, who put their lives on the line, would come home to the same ignorance, hatred, and utter disrespect that they have grown up with. For example, with WWII, Black came home to Jim Crow Laws and Japanese Americans came home with no homes and deep resentment. These minority units (Tuskegee and 442nd) were the most highly decorated units, yet, all the could do was work as janitors and mechanics. As Vietnam escalated, the American people became angry. Some may not know this fact, but the reason why soldiers were given the awful label of "baby killers" is because Vietnam was the first war to have real live footage aired to the American people, the American Press was aloud onto air bases, and some reporters were implanted. Unfortunately, since most of the news was skewed (i.e., ratings and editing) , it shouldn't be surprising that people would overreact they way they did and that is why books like Fallen Angels are absolutely essential in providing real insight into the mind of a soldier. Since Perry volunteered for the service, readers needed to understand that the Draft was used for this war and a lot of young men, who weren't meant for war, were killed on the field. To this day, Vietnam veterans continue to suffer from the effects of the war and some don't even want to talk about their experience because of the horror they witnessed. I was in tears when I finished this story, but, despite the ordeal these young men went through, I am thankful for their sacrifice and service.     

Information about the Author:
According to his website:
I was born on a Thursday, the 12th of August, 1937, in Martinsburg, West Virginia. My name at birth was Walter Milton Myers. For some strange reason I was given to a man named Herbert Dean who lived in Harlem. I consider it strange because I don't know why I was given away.

I was raised in Harlem by Herbert and his wife, Florence. Herbert was African American. Florence was German and Native American and wonderful and loved me very much.
As a child my life centered around the neighborhood and the church. The neighborhood protected me and the church guided me. I resisted as much as I could.

I was smart (all kids are smart) but didn't do that well in school.
I dropped out of high school (although now Stuyvesant High claims me as a graduate) and joined the army on my 17th birthday.

Basketball has always been a passion of mine. Sometimes at night I lie in bed thinking about games I've played. Sometimes I think about what would have happened if I had gone into the NBA (I was never good enough) or college ball.

Anyway.... I wrote well in high school and a teacher (bless her!) recognized this and also knew I was going to drop out. She advised me to keep on writing no matter what happened to me.
"It's what you do," she said.

I didn't know exactly what that meant but, years later, working on a construction job in New York, I remembered her words. I began writing at night and eventually began writing about the most difficult period of my own life, the teen years. That's what I do.

Genre:
Teen Military Fiction, Teen Historical Fiction, Teen Lit for Guys


Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & up

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Awards & Recognition:
From Amazon.com:

"A coming of age tale for young adults set in the trenches of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, Fallen Angels is the story of Perry, a Harlem teenager who volunteers for the service when his dream of attending college falls through. Sent to the front lines, Perry and his platoon come face-to-face with the Vietcong and the real horror of warfare. But violence and death aren't the only hardships. As Perry struggles to find virtue in himself and his comrades, he questions why black troops are given the most dangerous assignments, and why the U.S. is there at all. Fallen Angels won the 1989 Coretta Scott King Award." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

. . . as thought provoking as it is entertaining, touching and, on occasion, humorous. -- The New York Times Book Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. 

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Deborah Takahashi
Pasadena, CA, United States
My name is Deb and I am a Librarian who absolutely loves to read and recommend books to teen and tween readers. In this blog, you will find reviews on a variety resources ranging from books, movies, video games, and much more. Please feel free to leave any feedback, especially book recommendations!
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