HEROES: A NOVEL OF PEARL HARBOR, by Alan Gratz, Scholastic Press, Feb. 6, 2024, Hardcover, $18.99 (ages 8-12)
Heroes: A Novel of Pearl Harbor, by Alan Gratz, follows two boys during the raid and aftermath of the Japanese attach in December 1941.
December 6, 1941: Best friends Frank and Stanley have it good. With their dads stationed at the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii, the boys get to soak up the sunshine while writing and drawing their own comic books. World War II might be raging overseas, but so far America has stayed out of the fight. There’s nothing to fear, right?
December 7th, 1941: Everything implodes.
Frank and Stanley are touring a battleship when Japanese planes zoom overhead, dropping bomb after bomb. As explosions roar and sailors scream, Frank and Stanley realize the unthinkable is happening: Japan is attacking America! The war has come to them.
Frantically, the boys struggle to find safety. But disaster and danger are everywhere — from torpedoes underwater to bullets on the beach… to the shocking cruelty that their friends and neighbors show Stanely. Because his mom is Japanese-American, Stanely is suddenly seen as the “enemy.” And Frank, who is white, cannot begin to understand what his friend is now facing.
If the boys make it through this infamous day, can their friendship–and their dreams — survive? Or has everything they know been destroyed? —Synopsis provided by Scholastic Press
Alan Gratz has a way of bringing history to life that you can’t ignore. From beginning to end, Heroes is a high-stakes read that you won’t want to put down.
Gratz takes young readers to the center of action by placing Frank and Stanley on the deck of the battleship Utah when the Japanese start dropping bombs. Seeing the ensuing chaos through their eyes brings an immediacy to the story you couldn’t catch otherwise.
With so much going on, it would be easy for readers to get lost, but Gratz deftly shepherds his audience from place to place in a way that makes sense. He removes the confusion for the reader while still conveying that overwhelming feel of mayhem.
At the center of it all is a friendship that is built on the love of comic books but is fractured by racism. Frank and Stanley are best buds that are well developed and likeable. They’re easy to root for both during and after the attack. You want them to succeed and you hope for a future where their friendship endures.
Heroes ends with an all-original, 10-page black & white comic that brings to life the comic book idea that Frank and Stanley brainstorm in the novel. The comic is written by Alan Gratz and illustrated by Judit Tondora. And it’s a lot of fun to see the ideas realized. Also included is a map of Pearl Harbor on Dec.7, 1941 and an author’s note about WWII, a section about the story, and a discussion of Asian Americans in comics.
Heroes is an action-packed read that should appeal to a large cross-section of readers. I read it in one sitting.
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