Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dogtag Summer, by Elizabeth Partidge (ages 10 - 14)

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.
Dogtag SummerDogtag Summer
by Elizabeth Partridge
NY: Bloomsbury, 2011
ages 10 - 14
available on Amazon and your local library
Tracy's summer between 5th and 6th grade was supposed to be filled with lazy days swimming in the river and building a project with her best friend Stargazer. But when the two of them find an old ammo box and a dogtag inside it, Tracy's world starts cracking around her. She knows the story of how she was adopted, but there are so many unanswered questions - so many missing pieces that it "left an empty, scooped-out place" inside.

Her father - a Vietnam War vet - buries himself in work, his cocktails and the nightly news, refusing to answer any questions. "It wasn't long until my dad came back in the front door. In the stillness, the quiet rooms of our house echoed with secrets." Her mother tries to answer her questions, but she can barely communicate with her husband, much less really understand Tracy's longings or help her fill in the missing pieces.

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.

For students who like this story where a young person is struggling with their identity, I might also recommend All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg. Matt Pin is haunted by memories from his life in Vietnam before he was airlifted to safety. Now he is living with a loving adoptive family, but he is still having struggling with these memories.

The review copy of Dogtag Summer was kindly sent by Margo Tanenbaum at The Fourth Musketeer. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support!

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

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