Walter Dean Myers.
Two-time Newbery Honor author Walter Dean Myers is no stranger to war. His father served in WWII, his brother died while fighting in the Vietnam War, his son was stationed in Qatar during the first Gulf War, and his grandson served in Iraq at the beginning of the current conflict. Understandably, the author has a deeply personal connection to the subject of his latest novel, Sunrise Over Fallujah, narrated by a teenage soldier deployed to Iraq. Next month, Scholastic will release the novel with a 50,000-copy print run, as well as a 20th anniversary paperback edition of Fallen Angels, Myers’s Coretta Scott King Award-winning novel set in the battlefield jungles of Vietnam.
Myers also has firsthand experience in the military, having served in the Army for three years, after enlisting on his 17th birthday. “When I joined the Army,” Myers recalls, “I had a romantic notion of war, having read World War I British poetry and watched films about World War II.” That image was soon shattered. His brother’s death in Vietnam caused Myers to reflect further on war and its meaning and led him to write Fallen Angels. “I wanted to dispel the notion of war as either romantic or simplistically heroic,” he explains.
Myers, who continues to receive letters from readers of Fallen Angels, had a similar inspiration for penning Sunrise Over Fallujah, which has a close connection to the earlier novel: its narrator recounts his experiences on the front in e-mails sent home to his uncle, the Vietnam soldier at the center of Fallen Angels. “In light of 9/11, so many people think that Operation Iraqi Freedom is a wonderful, patriotic and heroic thing,” Myers says. He observes that media coverage of the Iraq conflict differs pointedly from that during the Vietnam War, noting that images of wounded soliders and coffins are prohibited in broadcasts or print coverage of the current war. “Many of the images that kids do see are misleading in terms of what actually happens at war,” he adds. “Readers who are 13 and 14 now may well be fighting in several years and will eventually be the commanders in the field making the decisions. I hope that Sunrise Over Fallujah, like Fallen Angels, will make young people think very seriously about the full spectrum of war and will make them hesitant to glorify war.”
The research tools available to Myers as he wrote his newest novel differed from those at his disposal when writing about Vietnam. Though he drew from interviews with veterans and official government accounts while researching both novels, this time the Internet provided additional resources, among them “After Action Reports” compiled on GlobalSecurity.com, and numerous American and Arab blogs. “Many of the blogs read very differently from the official reports,” says Myers. “Especially telling are a group of Iraqi bloggers living in America, who talk about the deaths of members of their families. One said that he doesn’t know any Iraqi family in which at least one member had not been killed. These blogs are very sad.”
Andrea Davis Pinkney, v-p and editor at large at Scholastic, edited Sunrise Over Fallujah, which to her knowledge is the first young adult novel set during the war in Iraq. Calling the novel “groundbreaking,” she praises Myers’s success in his mission to make the war real to readers. “The book drives home that this war is not a movie or a video game,” Pinkney says. “Kids need to know that this war is real and we cannot sugarcoat it. One of the most powerful aspects of Sunrise Over Fallujah is that it puts readers right on the front lines. If ever there was a time to not turn down the volume, to keep it real, this is it.”
Discussing Scholastic’s marketing campaign for Sunrise Over Fallujah, Tracy van Straaten, v-p of publicity and education/library marketing, says the company does not see the book as primarily a story relevant to current events. “We obviously are aware of the novel’s timeliness, but above all we are positioning this as another literary masterpiece by Walter Dean Myers,” she says.
Scholastic launched its promotion for Sunrise Over Fallujah with a Q&A event with the author at ALA Midwinter, which the publisher has just replicated in its Manhattan auditorium. The novel will be supported by print and online advertising, selected author publicity, a video book trailer accessible on various Web sites and a joint reading group guide with Fallen Angels.
Pinkney is certain that Myers’s latest book, like its predecessor, will still resonate in two decades. “This is a novel for today, yet it is a novel for all times, since, unfortunately, war does not end,” she observes. “And the book’s themes extend beyond that topic. It is also about fear, confusion, loss and group dynamics, all of which are core to the human experience and very real to kids. And they always will be.”
Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers. Scholastic, $17.99 304p ages 12-up ISBN 978-0-439-91624-0