CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 1. . . .September 5, 2014
Tin Soldier. (The Seven Sequels).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2014.
248 pp., trade pbk., pdf & epub, $10.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0546-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0547-7 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0548-4 (epub).
Grades 5-11 / Ages 10-16.
Review by Crystal Sutherland.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
He could walk away, find a sheltered bus stop to sleep in overnight, and find a way back to Nashville, where he would work on new songs.
Or he could step inside the café and get more involved in something that had already resulted in arson and maybe attempted murder. We knew what he wanted to choose. A shelter and a bus stop.
But his grandfather, David McLean, had made it possible for Webb to get to Nashville in the first place. Web owed a lot to his grandfather and to his memory. Webb had no choice but to try to clear his grandfather’s name.
Jim Webb, like many teenagers, dreams of becoming a famous musician. He hasn’t had an easy life, losing his father at a young age, and leaving home at a young age to escape his physically and psychologically abusive stepfather. When Webb’s grandfather dies, he leaves enough money for Webb to begin his musical career in Nashville. When Webb meets his cousins at his grandfather’s cabin to say a final goodbye and look at their inheritances, Webb accidentally dislodges a fireplace log and quickly snatches two passports and a strange notebook that fall out – Web thought he knew who his grandfather was, but the passports with the same photo but different names makes Webb wonder if he really knew his grandfather at all, and whether his grandfather was a spy for the good guys or the bad guys. While recording an album is important to him, Webb concludes he won’t be able to write or sing without first solving the mystery.
Webb travels to Tennessee to find Ruby, a woman whom he’d tracked down through a pendant found with the passports and who, he hoped, would have the information he needed to solve the mystery that consumed him. Ruby’s father served in the Vietnam War with Webb’s grandfather, and Webb hopes she will know someone who may be able to answer his questions. After a quick call, Ruby sends Webb to visit Lee, a veteran who served with her father, and who might have the answers Webb needs.
When Lee answers the door, both he and Webb make silent, automatic assumptions about each other: Lee sees a scruffy young man who resembles the hippies who had protested the war he volunteered to fight in, and Webb sees an old African American man who, he believes, must have a chip on his shoulder having lived in the Deep South all his life. Despite their judgments, both men decide solving the mystery of the two passports is more important than the snap judgments they made.
When Lee’s house is set on fire, they know someone must have wanted to destroy the two passports Webb had left behind, and they realize that someone is as committed to ending their search as they are to solving the mystery. Lee’s connections show equal commitment to helping Webb and Lee find the answers they need, but not before Lee teaches Webb what it was like in Vietnam and why people voluntarily enlisted in a war so many others disagreed with.
The deeper the pair dig, the more impossible the truth seems. Faked deaths, secret identities, political corruption, and unexpected bonds unravel and develop as Webb and Lee learn more about each other, how the past, as well as trusting first impressions and assumptions, can keep you captive and stand in the way of success.
A fast-paced story with lots of twists, Tin Soldier will have readers hooked and cheering on its teenaged main character Webb from page one. He’s aware of the judgments people make when they see his long hair and scruffy appearance. He’s carefully crafted his appearance to keep people at a distance, both physically and emotionally. He doesn’t like asking others for help, but when the mystery of his grandfather’s multiple identities surfaces Webb knows, even with his indispensable iPad, he won’t be able to find the answers he needs alone.
Lee takes the time he and Webb spend together figuring out why Webb’s grandfather had multiple passports with different names, and who burned down Lee’s house in order to destroy the passports, to explain his reasons for volunteering to fight in a war that people were very critical of. Like Webb, Lee loses the façade he uses to protect himself from others, and the two very different characters, a white Canadian teen living mostly on the streets, and an African American Vietnam veteran and successful insurance salesman, find they’re not so different. While this type of revelation can come across as saccharine and heavy-handed, Brouwer does an excellent job working it into a detailed, fast-paced story that allows the characters to realized their similarities naturally.
It’s easy to assign labels to people based on appearance, and everyone in Tin Soldier, good and bad, is aware of the assumptions others will make about them based on looks alone. Webb and Lee are able to put aside their prejudices and work together to solve the mystery of Webb’s grandfather’s multiple identities, and expose a corrupt congressman who, like Webb, had used the assumptions people make based on appearance to hide who he really was – he presented himself as a heroic veteran of the Vietnam war.
Tin Soldier is a great read that is hard to put down, full of characters readers can’t help but root for, and packed with historical facts without allowing the story to become a dry history lesson.
Crystal Sutherland is a MEd (Literacy) and MLIS graduate living in Halifax, NS, where she is solo-librarian for the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
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