Karyn talked about the emotionally powerful Two Boys Kissing last week, and at the risk of completely echoing her review, I had such a similar reading experience with Courage Has No Color, which moved me to tears. The Triple Nickles dealt with racism in the army and at home, all while training to defend a country that wanted to keep them segregated. They worked extremely hard, made great sacrifices, and after all they endured, the men of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion were never sent overseas to use their considerable skills in combat. I came away from that first reading feeling bitter and inspired, and I had very favorable things to say about the book overall. And now? I still have favorable things to say, but I don’t think this is a book we’ll be seeing in the winner’s circle come January.
In addition to being an interesting story, Stone uses the Triple Nickles as a microcosm of blacks in the army during that era. She highlights the irony that WWII was (in part) a fight against a racist ideology, yet black soldiers still came home to racism. This injustice certainly made me consider the meaning of patriotism and what kind of ownership I feel in my country. The Triple Nickles and other blacks in the army at that time had just cause to feel sour towards their country, but they still felt that by serving, by being active and useful to their country they could contribute to making a positive change for future generations. Stone excels in taking the narrative through these various moods, from resentment and anger to excitement and pride, while maintaining her own neutral voice.
Does she go far enough though with the civil rights themes? I’m not sure. It’s listed for 10 and up, so for 5th – 8th graders, yes this is an adequate portrait of the civil rights issues of the time, but there isn’t a ton of complexity here.
In terms of pure exposition, the book would have benefitted from a textual or visual description of military structure. There are a lot of titles, regiments, and battalions but no explanation of what any of it means. It’s possible that’s an explanation that isn’t actually necessary for most readers, but I think the text overall assumes knowledge of World War II that not everyone (young adult or adult) has.
Courage Has No Color is a book I’m glad to have read; it’s engaging nonfiction and readers can only benefit from knowing more of the untold stories about people of color. It isn’t, however, a strong Printz contender (which is why this wasn’t on our longlist, but we wanted to give it a shoutout nevertheless). Those four stars didn’t come from nowhere, but in this case they’re probably more for the story than the telling.