cover image Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19-Year-Old GI

Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19-Year-Old GI

Ryan Smithson, . . HarperTeen, $16.99 (321pp) ISBN 978-0-06-166468-7

In this raw and powerful memoir, veteran Smithson recounts his time as an army engineer in Iraq. As a student in suburban Albany, he joins the army after 9/11. While in Iraq, he's shot at and faces mortar attack, but he spends more time on responsibilities like methodical cleanups of roadside bomb craters—work that's as vital, if not as sexy, as actual combat. Smithson's interactions with Iraqi children and families, as much as with his fellow soldiers, drive the story. Military biography clichés—from the indoctrination of boot camp (“they break us down, build us up, break us down again, and then build us back up”) to resentment of officers among the enlisted—abound because they're no doubt true. But the real meat of the book is in Smithson's dealings with American noncombatants, from the little boy who sends care packages to the pilot who insists on upgrading him to first class and his wife and parents. Smithson avoids writing either prowar propaganda or an antimilitary polemic, providing instead a fascinating, often humorous—and occasionally devastating—account of the motivations and life of a contemporary soldier. Ages 14–up. (May)