The best part of the novel is the main character, twelve year old Jamie. Jamie’s brother, T.J., has just left for Vietnam, and Jamie is higher than a kite. Finally one of them will get to experience what a real war is like, experience all the games Jamie and T.J. played growing up on an army base, and T. J. has promised to write and tell Jamie all about it. Jamie only wishes she could enlist and go with him.
Jamie, a self-described “Army brat” who admires her father The Colonel to the point of hero-worship, is an ebullient, indomitable, ball of fire, and she kept me reading just to see what she would do next. The plot and character development are predictable; as Jamie grows up she learns that war is not all fun and games. T.J., instead of sending Jamie letters, sends her rolls of film, pictures that he has taken in Vietnam for her to develop and print. For some reason, many of his pictures are photos of the moon, hence the title. I’ll probably beat myself when I figure it out, but I didn’t really get the significance of the moon pics. Maybe it’s something about the same moon shines over in Vietnam that shines over Fort Hood where Jamie is?
I also enjoyed one of the minor characters, Cindy Lorenzo, a learning disabled friend of Jamie’s who “hit and bit” and “whose brain was still on the first grade level.” Everyone knows a Cindy, and Ms. Dowell presents her sympathetically but realistically. I never really understood why T.J. joined the Army in the first place, and I didn’t get why Jamie’s other friend, Private Hollister, did what he did in the course of the story either.
Anyhoo, if you’re a fan of war/anti-war Vietnam novels, this one fits that description. Or if you like girls that win at gin rummy . . .
Other, uniformly laudatory, opinions (what do I know?):
Becky’s Book Reviews: “Full of depth and true meaning-of-life “stuff,” Shooting the Moon is one of 2008’s must read books.”
Megan at Read, Read, Read: “This book would really be a great starting board for talking about some of the harsh realities behind war. Frances O’Roark Dowell is very careful not to be too preachy about war or even too supportive of war. The novel had the perfect balance for me.”
Fuse 8: “This book is amazing. Top notch, wonderful, humorous, meaningful, with a pull and a hit in the gut that’ll knock a readers’ socks off. What we’ve got here is a title that has an excellent chance of engaging every reader that comes across it. And timely doesn’t even begin to describe it.”
A Wrunge Sponge: “This is a really wonderful middle grade novel, highly recommended for boys and girls alike. You could use it as a discussion starter around the topics of family, war, and changing perspectives, an example of memoir writing and excellent dialog that moves the story along and reveals character traits, or to introduce comparisons of writing and the visual arts (photography).”
Franki at A Year of Reading: “This is a powerful story. A story of how war affects a family and how a family deals with a child that is sent to war. It is the story of a young girl growing up and finding herself. And there is amazing thread of photography throughout the book.”