HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Back to Bataan
Author: Jerome Charyn
Cover Illustrator: Elaine Norman
Publisher: Tribute Books, republished 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0374304768 Hardcover
ISBN-10: 0374304769 Hardcover
ISBN-13: 9780985792206 Paperback
ISBN-10: 0985792206 Paperback
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 12 and up
Rating: *** 3 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Charyn, Jerome. Back to Bataan (Originally published in French in 1992 by Hachette-Jeunesse; republished in America in 1993 by Farrar Straus and Giroux, 19 Union Square West, New York City, NY 10003). It is 1943 and eleven year old Jack Dalton Jr. lives in a New York City apartment with his mother, who works in a parachute factory. His father had been killed the year before in the Battle of Bataan during World War II. Jack is a scholarship student in the Lower Division at the exclusive, private Dutch Masters Day School, but he wants to help protect his mother from the Germans and the Japanese by joining the army so that he can return to Bataan with General MacArthur. Then his so-called “fiancee,” Mauricette, whom he calls “Coco,” throws him over for a bullying rich kid, Arturo Fink. Jack becomes so depressed and angry that, while at an “engagement party” for Mauricette and Arturo, he sets off a fire in his rival’s mansion.
Afraid that he might have destroyed the entire house, Jack runs away and joins ranks with a group of vagrants hiding out in Riverside Park, the leader of whom is appropriately called “The Leader,” a charismatic ex-convict. What happens to Jack? Does he fall under the influence of this evil man? Can he ever go home again? One reviewer wrote, “There were no sex scenes (yay!) and no profanity (yay!). Can you believe it?” That is true, but there is some cursing. Jack, who narrates the action, uses the “h” word rather frequently, such as “blushing like ‘h’,” “happy as ‘h’,” “proud as ‘h’,” and “where the ‘h’.” Said to be a coming of age young adult novella that gives insight into the mind of a boy at a time when children should have been children but instead they had to adapt to the war, the story does have some historical ambience in it with air raid warnings, old soda fountain places, victory gardens, and ration stamps.
However, I agree with School Library Journal which said, “This is a strange novel,…and the entire business about his love life is simply bizarre,” noting that “young people are likely to find this story baffling.” There is nothing actually bad in it; I just couldn’t find anything really good—any virtue, positive benefit, or important lesson. However, not to be totally negative, here are some messages that others did seem to notice. Jack finds himself in his own personal Bataan right in the heart of New York City, where he must decide if he really is a coward or a brave enough soldier to do the right thing. Jack learns a lot about choices and sacrifice and what it really means to be an adult. Jack sees that the decisions which he makes affect not only himself but others as well.