Death Coming Up the Hill

death coming up.jpg

Book Information

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt October 2014
  • Character-Building Curriculum
  • Social Studies Curriculum

“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

See more of Richie's  Picks:  (

User reviews

Have you read this book? We'd love to hear what you think. Click the button below to write your own review!