on April 8, 2011
This book gave me so much to think about, and it kept me glued to the pages the entire time I read it. Protagonist Tracy is easy to like, and her confusion about who she is and where she came from just leaps out of the book. Her helpless rage is convincing and understandable, as is her inability to communicate her feelings to the people she loves. Because she doesn't know how to talk about her doubts and her fears, she instead keeps pushing her family and friends away. This is a heart-wrenching read, because it's hard to think about a young child enduring what Tracy had to. Her story is relevant to any war situation. During the horrors of fighting, it is always the most vulnerable who suffer the most.
Tracy has been adopted by an American couple, and the half-Vietnamese kid seems happy and carefree on the outside. Inside, however, she is a bundle of confusion. After finding an old ammo box in the garage, she is assailed with questions about herself. She remembers bits and pieces about her life in Vietnam - she had a grandmother who loved her, she lived beside a tea-colored river, and her mother worked for the Americans in the laundry at their base. What she doesn't remember is how she got to her adoptive home, and once she opens the ammo box, she is like Pandora. The box has been opened and her questions, like the ghosts of her past, won't leave her alone.
I found this story so compelling because I never stopped to think of something that is very obvious - adopted kids had a life before they were adopted. There was a there before there was a here. Tracy's there is filled with both soft, gentle memories, and more traumatic nightmares as the warfare escalated in 1975 Vietnam. She lived through some truly horrific moments, and to protect herself, her mind shut down and simply forgot about her ordeal. The ammo box, and the set of dogtags she finds, blows the lid off of her memories. Through a series of short flashbacks, her past is slowly revealed, linked together like beads on a necklace, to expose her past again.
Tracy's adoptive father, a Vietnam vet, is also suffering from PTSD. I found it very moving when Tracy confronts him, begging him to share his memories with her. She is the only person who could possibly understand what he was going through, but, like Tracy, his defense mechanism is to shut everyone out. Tracy is persistent, however. The horrors of the Vietnam War belong to both of them, and Tracy won't stop asking questions until she gets some answers. Who is she? What were her parents like? Where does she belong?
This MG read is touching and emotionally satisfying. I am dismayed that it isn't getting the buzz it deserves. If you are going to read just one MG book this year, read this one!
on November 15, 2014
Set in the years following the end of the Vietnam war, Dogtag Summer is a sweet coming of age story. Author, Elizabeth Partridge, does a good job of showing the impact of the war through the eyes of a child who doesn't understand the war, but lives with the suffering it causes. Partridge also does a good job of showing the strong feelings Americans had about the war. War orphan, Tracy, sees the hostility some people have towards vets. She also sees how vets are honored and respected. These conflicting points of view add to her confusion and feelings of isolation. Her father was an American soldier. She doesn't know what happened to her extended Vietnamese family. Her adopted American parents are loving and supportive, but Tracy feels like she can't talk to them about her feelings of loneliness and doubt. She also knows her parents are keeping secrets, and she fears the secrets are about her. As Tracy's memories of her life during the war begin to surface, she pulls away from her parents and best friend. She begins to have nightmares and feelings of doom. I appreciated that Partridge does not neatly wrap up all of the conflicts for an unrealistic happily ever after ending. But Tracy, and her parents, do learn that keeping secrets does not heal emotional wounds. And Tracy learns that a true friend will forgive you if you ask.
on March 16, 2011
Who am I? Where do I belong? Who can I trust? These are questions that all children ask as they grow older, but for twelve-year-old Tracy these questions haunt her. In the moving story Dogtag Summer, Tracy knows that her mother was Vietnamese and she was adopted when she was six, just after the Vietnam War ended. But her parents won't share any other real information with her. So she is left with a hole in her heart, an empty place inside her.
As Tracy searches for her identity, a sense of home and where she belongs, she remembers bit by bit more of her childhood. Each chapter begins with a brief snippet of a memory, almost like a fragment of a dream, of Tracy's childhood in Vietnam. She remembers living with her grandmother, having her mother visit her, and running away from the bright lights of an American jeep. She remembers the villagers calling her con-lai, or 'half-breed', because her father was an American GI. But she can't remember enough to put all the pieces together, to fill the longing in her heart.
Partridge conveys Tracy's emotional struggle realistically, showing how this young girl is torn by the secrets stifling her home, and yet how she is unable to really articulate what it is she needs to understand. Her writing is both accessible and full of wonderful images. I can't wait share this with students.
on March 24, 2011
Were you a student filled with rightous outrage during the Vietnam War oblivious to the emotional ruin of soldiers returning home? The war was wrong as are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but we still have veterans who return and must deal with the aftermath of their experiences in those wars.This is a wakeup read for all of us who protested the war in Vietnam. Partridge's book does a brilliant job of edging the reader into the complex emtional fallout of being in and from a war zone. Weaving two perspectives, one of a child remembering her life in Vietnam with that of her adoptive father trying to forget the war, creates a tale that keeps you right on the edge right up until the end. The read is not just for children and would make a great point of discussion for any book club!
on August 5, 2011
Tracy has never felt like she belonged. In Vietnam, she was con lai, half breed, because her father was an American GI. Life with her new family in America isn't much different.
When she and her best friend, Stargazer, stumble upon her father's old ammo box and war dogtags, they bring on a slew of questions without answers. She is flooded with memories from her past in Vietnam during the war, and she discovers more about herself than she had ever known.
Elizabeth Partridge bravely delves into the complications war has on families. Those who have ever felt as though they were strangers in their own homes will connect with Tracy's struggles to find herself. Alternating between the past and present, the author takes readers on an unforgettable journey.
Reviewed by: Monica Sheffo