It’s Tween & Teen Tuesday when we review either a Juvenile (J) or Young Adult (YA) book.
War & Watermelon
Rich Wallace (Young Adult Historical Fiction)
If you were to rank boys based on “coolness”, Brody Winslow would be near the bottom…low-middle at best. But things could be worse. It’s August 1969 and his brother Ryan could STILL avoid the draft (if he just got off his butt), the New York Mets COULD win a game (if they just got off their butt), and Brody MIGHT be a starter on his football team (if he could just stay off his butt). All in all, things are looking pretty good. In less than a month, Brody will be starting junior high school and his brother has promised to take him to a farm in upstate New York for some hippie concert protesting the war in Vietnam. That might be fun. Big changes are coming and Brody is about to tackle them all…whether he’s ready or not.
Rich Wallace started his early writing career as a sports editor for various New Jersey newspapers and his talent shows in War & Watermelon where the football and baseball references abound. But what’s really at the core of this tender and sentimental book is the special bond shared by brothers Ryan and Brody. Unlike the competitive or jealous sibling relationships you find in some books, the Winslow boys are fiercely supportive, loyal, and kind to one another. As Ryan’s 18th birthday approaches—along with his draft status—Brody senses his brother’s increasing anxiety and is not sure how to comfort him: “I should get to bed; we’ve got another game tomorrow night. But I wouldn’t be sleeping anyway, so I’d rather stay here with Ryan. He’d been there for me. Teaching me how to shoot a basketball or cook a hot dog. Taking me to the movies, even when he goes to the drive-in with Jenny. Giving me things like a Giants jersey he got too big for, or a flashlight when I was four and scared that there was a monster in my closet. Now he’s scared. I’m scared, too. We might as well sit here together.” There’s also a tight-knit relationship between Ryan, Brody, and their father. Nights sitting up cheering on their Mets while eating olives and saltines or laughing out loud to re-reruns of The Honeymooners are clearly enjoyed and treasured by all three.
War & Watermelon is a humorous and delightful book about one young man trying to make a difference and one boy trying to make it through the day. It’s a little slice of Americana served with grape soda pop and a bag of pretzels in front of a black and white TV. It isn’t dramatic, suspenseful, thrilling, or riddled with angst. Some may even go so far as to call it trite or boring. But as Brody Winslow once said, “We wander around for an hour, shoot some baskets, then go home. Yeah, it was boring, but that’s life. Boring isn’t always so bad”. I would even venture to say that boring can be great…now pass the olives and turn on the TV!
* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com
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