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Friday, March 11, 2011

Shot at Dawn, written by John Wilson. Scholastic, 2011. $14.99 ages 10 and up

"Heavier guns were targeting
the strongpoints behind us.
We huddled down as low as
possible in the bottom of the
trench as the ground heaved
and clods of earth flew through
the air. The sound was a physical
presence—a hammer beating
constantly inside my head."

This is another in the I Am Canada series. Although it is a hardcover copy, its size makes it feel like a paperback and that size will appeal to its target audience...the intermediate/middle years boy. The fact that it is historical, and about World War I is sure to add interest.

Allan McBride was looking for the travel and adventure that lures so many young men when he signed up with the Canadian Army. His friend Ken inspired that action because Allan admired his bravery and leadership. Now, as he awaits his death by firing squad for desertion during combat, he shares his story with his guard.

Upon arrival in Europe to help the Allies, Allan fights for many months near Ypres and  Passchendaele. Friends and fellow soldiers are killed and their deaths haunt him:

" I wrote home about this scene at great length, but never mentioned that, the week after New Year's, Neil had had his brains smeared over the trench wall by a sniper. I was doing in my letters home exactly what Ken had done in his letters to me. It is simply not possible to describe Hell to those who have not been there."

 He dreams of the dead coming for him. When Ken is seriously injured and another friend killed, Allan loses focus and his mental health deteriorates. Thus, he joins a band of deserters whose hopes and dreams are as smashed as his are. As his mental health improves, he sees that he must return to his unit. It is then that he meets his friend again and learns that Ken has survived his injuries. Ken's present mission is to round up deserters when he comes upon his old friend. He promises that he will help him:

"I thought being a deserter was a possibility because I had seen some symptoms in you that I recognized - the occasional twitch, the inability to sleep, the faraway look in the eyes. I knew if you were a deserter it was because you were sick, like I was. You don't have to worry anymore, Allan. I'll get you some help."

Once back he is hailed as a hero. Still, he is a deserter. There are consequences for such action. As he awaits his punishment, the reader has no idea if there will be a reprieve. Is there a chance that Allan will be 'shot at dawn'?

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