Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo
Reasons for reading: Remembrance Day book for Holiday Challenge; Historical fiction for Triple 8 Challenge; heard the author speak recently and was amazed
Description: "As the enemy lurks in the darkness, Thomas struggles to stay awake through the night. He has lived through the terror of gas attacks and watched friends die by his side. But in the morning, Thomas will be forced to confront an even greater horror. As the minutes tick by, Thomas remembers his childhood spent deep in the countryside with his mother, his brothers, and Molly, the love of his life. But each minute that passes brings Thomas closer to something he can't bear to to think about--the moment when the war and its horrific consequences will change his life forever."
First paragraph: "They've gone now, and I'm alone at last. I have the whole night ahead of me, and I won't waste a single moment of it. I shan't sleep it away. I won't dream it away either. I mustn't, becuase every moment of it will be far too precious."
My thoughts: I was really impressed and touched by Morpurgo's storytelling and how passionate his is about the subjects of his books. After hearing him speak, I knew I had to read one of his books, and since I'd seen him just before Remembrance Day, this one fit the bill very well. While the subject is very sobering, I'm glad I read it and would recommend it.
The book was inspired by a telegram in a museum in Ypres that bluntly informed a mother her son had been shot for cowardice. With some research, Morpurgo found that almost 300 soldiers had died this way, with barely a trial, rarely any representation, and with no consideration for the effects of war on their minds and bodies. Outraged, he wrote this book. And apparently he saw the surname Peaceful on a gravestone in Ypres, which I think adds the perfect touch.
There is a lot of bird imagery in the book (and, from hearing him speak, I think this is a central theme with the author) - birds representing the spirits of the dead, birds bringing joy and hope, the absence of birds indicating despair. There are little pictures of butterflies separating the paragraphs and also on the cover, but I think they should have been birds.
I think this is an excellent war-themed book for teens, as it's not just about the war - a lot of time is spent revealing Charlie and Tommo's life before the war - their close relationship, the hardships their family has endured, their love for the same girl. The scenes in France are very realistic, with many details about life in the trenches. The ending is a surprising twist and I found that it made an already well-written story even better and more poignant.