No Surrender Soldier is set in 1972 on the Island of Guam (a US territory.) Fifteen-year-old Kiko chases a baseball into the jungle and finds a Japanese soldier hiding in a cave. His family history makes the encounter all the more horrific: during World War II, a Japanese soldier raped his mother, and now Kiko's brother is missing in action in Vietnam. Kiko is torn between his desire for revenge and his empathy for the old soldier. He's a believably impulsive teenager who hungers to be a man. This is a coming of age story with solid values.
What I loved best about No Surrender Soldier was how it treated the Japanese and Guam cultures with even-handed respect while acknowledging the atrocities of war. Kiko is native to Guam but his best friend is Japanese. Tourists from Japan help his family's business. The story is told in alternating chapters so that we can see inside the Japanese soldier's head and empathize with his harrowing struggle for survival. Seto's flashbacks to his boyhood (including baseball) and his shame over disappointing the emperor make him a sympathetic but scary character.
The writing was accessible with occasional poetic interludes in Seto's voice:
Not raining leaves, nor whistling wind, not gonging bamboo, nor droning airplanes - especially not the bombers - could drown out the sound of a thousand soldiers marching. Marching. Marching.This fast-paced novel would appeal especially to boys aged eleven to fourteen. Kiko is a young, boyish fifteen. There are lots of gross-out survival details like eating rats, although talking to a girl is even scarier. I had a hard time reading the detailed description of butchering the family pig, but Kiko suffers even more because he loves his pet. The gory violence of that scene was not gratuitous since it foreshadows what may come later. Although the story has plenty of educational value and religious moments, it never sounded didactic or preachy. No Surrender Soldier was designed to be read under the covers with a flashlight.
Reviewer's Disclosure: I bought this 2014 ebook myself. It's also available in hardcover from Merit Press, a new publisher of young adult fiction. I have a personal interest in Japan. My husband teaches Japanese Politics at Bowdoin College and my sister-in-law is Japanese.
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