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Thursday, November 11, 2010

And in the Morning, written by John Wilson. Key Porter, 2010. $11.95 ages 12 and up

"Wednesday, December 1, Pierregot
The guns are continuous now and cannot be far off.
Iain says the particularly loud ones are probably the
fifteen inch naval guns. We can actually feel the
ground shake. Yet there is no major action occurring,
hyst the normal activity of this war."

The diary format of this fine book about the Great War will make it more accessible to its intended audience. The entries are often short, moving the reader day to day through the events as they unfold. Jim Hay starts keeping this diary on the day that Britain joins the war effort. His father has enlisted and his wish is that he and his brother could join him on the  imagined adventure. Its pages are filled with headlines and newspaper accounts, letters, postcards and daily notations about time as it passes for Jim before and after enlistment. When his father dies, causing his mother to spin hopelessly out of control and suddenly succumb to death herself, Jim makes a rash decision to sign up in honor of his father by following in his footsteps:

"I have decided - fool or fanatic, I am going to sign up with Iain tomorrow. What is there to stop me now? Only Anne, and she has given her permission. I cannot stay here. I will join Father's regiment and take his place."

In his diary and letters, he tells the story of his days at war. He tells of the fighting, the deaths of people who have come to be his friends, and some memorable encounters. As the war goes on, the days become mundane and on December 10 he writes:

"This is a very changed war from the one that Father fought so briefly. It's hard to believe it's only just over a year since then. He marched for weeks, but we sit in trenches that have not moved for a year. The strain of our position merely induces a lethargy and unwillingness to undertake anything out of the ordinary. In addition, I find that writing reminds me of home and makes the situation here even less enjoyable."
A year and a half later, in July, a catastrophic event changes the course of his life:

"The guard said I was found walking along a road and that I refused to state what I was doing or where my unit was. I know what I was doing - I was going to get you and your father and Aunt Sadie. We are going to Canada. But I cannot tell them that - it's our secret.

I know this is difficult to read, but I cannot stop my had shaking. I also seem to cry for no reason. I don't think I have slept in a long time. I am too scared."

This pain and horror of war is unmistakeable in the pages of this diary. We come to know Jim as he discovers these things for himself; first through the devastating loss of family, and then as he plods daily through the reality of the war. We feel the emotions he shares almost as personally as he does. We grieve with him as he witnesses the toll war takes, and as he must face the army's treatment of deserters in wartime. It is heartbreaking.

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