This week’s starred review is a powerful debut novel about the war in Iraq. Check out Kevin Powers’ website for lists of the honors and praise The Yellow Birds has already received, even though it releases tomorrow.
The author himself joined the army in 1997 at age 17, and he writes with firsthand knowledge about young men at war. Two interviews, one in print on Shelf Unbound and another a C-SPAN video filmed in June at BookExpo, address his use of poetic language, the challenge of returning home from war, and how the book corresponds to his own experience.
Keep your eyes out for our own SLJ interview with the author in next month’s SLJ Teen Newsletter.
Adult/High School–At the center of this novel of the Second Iraq War stretches a bravura 600-word sentence describing the confusion, despair, relief, anger, guilt, and joy of a returning soldier. It is an incredibly affecting invocation of the soldier’s plight, which clearly fixes the novel in the mold of the great World War I novels of disillusionment. Surrounding this brief masterpiece of language is the story of Private John Bartle and his quixotic attempt to honor his promise to bring his friend Murph home safely, a mission that eventually leads him to commit and cover-up a crime (the nature of which Bartle’s narration carefully withholds from readers till the final pages). Powers tells Bartle’s story in chapters that alternate between a two-month stretch of the war that ultimately leads to Murph’s death, and the much longer period of Bartle’s homecoming and adjustment to civilian life. Powers, an Iraq war veteran himself, has a breathtaking command of his prose, filling the chapters in Iraq with figurative language so beautiful and pointed that the inevitable slashes of bloody violence stab at readers with a visceral impact, while the chapters in the States are thick and slow with Bartle’s ennui and alienation. For any reader of war literature, this novel should not be missed.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA