“But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational wayout then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable peoplewho lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best theycould.”-- Walter Cronkite, February 27, 1968“Shout it from the mountain and out to the seaNo two ways about it, people have to be free”-- The Rascals (1968)“How does a guy dealwith being torn between twopeople he loves? Iknew I was luckythat I hadn’t had to choosebetween Mom and Dad.They’re opposites throwntogether because of me,and they had managedto keep a shakytruce for so many years. Butit was difficult.My dad was a flag-waving hawk who thought it wasevery red-bloodedman’s duty to spillthat blood when Americacalled on him for it.Mom’s an anti-wardove who gave me a ‘Hell no,I won’t go!’ tee shirtfor Christmas and she’dconvinced Dad and me that Ihad to enroll atASU as soonas I finished high school. ‘Thestudent defermentwill keep you out ofthe draft, she said, ‘and unlesswe’re really stupid,this war will be doneby the time you graduate.’Dad didn’t mind thedeferment. ‘You canjoin the ROTC andgraduate as anofficer,’ he said.‘The Army needs smart leaderswho can help put anend to the spread ofCommunism over inVietnam.’ But whenI thought about thefour hundred seventy-oneguys who died last week,I knew I’d go tocollege to avoid the war,not prepare for it.I just hoped the warended before I had todecide, because Daddidn’t need anymore ammunition to useagainst my mother.”
My generation grew up during the Vietnam War and the Civil RightsMovement. Flag-draped coffins were unloaded from cargo planes on the evening newswhile protesters were beaten by mobs and by cops. The times were alsomarked by assassinations and riots. Popular music was being transformed andtransformative. A counterculture challenged young people to see thingsdifferently and to break from the status quo.
These powerful events and movements are all part of DEATH COMING UP THEHILL. Told in haiku-formatted stanzas and set in 1968, this is the story of17-year-old Ashe Douglas. Back in the summer of 1950, Ashe’s parents hadhad sex as college students. At that time, women did not have safe andavailable options for terminating pregnancies. His parents have beenincompatibly together since then because their night of frolicking produced Ashe.This teen is living in a family war zone and is trying to find a code thathe can live by.
In 1968, Ashe is just a year away from the draft. In a year he might beordered to kill people. He could become another one of those flag-drapedcoffins. A potent mix of family events and the events of the wider worldpresent Ashe with terrible dilemmas that nobody should ever have to deal with,much less a 17-year-old boy. Helping Ashe come to terms with his life are ateacher and the new girl in town.
Each of the 976 haiku stanzas that together constitute DEATH COMING UP THEHILL contains the requisite 17 syllables. Multiplying these two numberstogether yields a total of 16,592 syllables. It would be quite a task tocount out these 16,592 syllables one by one. But there is a specific reasonfor the length of the book: Author Chris Crowe wrote one syllable for eachAmerican soldier who was killed in Vietnam in 1968. Yup, 16,592. Just inone year.
And if you think that is mind blowing feat and a horrific number, justimagine trying to count the three-plus-million syllables in a hypothetical setof books for which each syllable represents one of the people (bothcivilian and military) who died over the course of the Vietnam War.“and I’ll do unto you what you do to me”-- The Rascals
978-0-544-30215-0 208 pages Ages 12 and up
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, Librarian California USA
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