cover image Age 14

Age 14

Geert Spillebeen, , trans. from the Dutch by Terese Edelstein. . Houghton Mifflin, $16 (216pp) ISBN 978-0-547-05342-4

Patrick Condon, a strapping Irish boy who, even at age 10, stood “head and shoulders” above his peers, dreams of joining the military. His opportunity comes at age 12 when, posing as his older brother, he successfully enlists as a part-time soldier with the Militia Battalion shortly before the onset of WWI. His training sessions seem like a game; the grim reality of fighting an actual battle doesn't set in until two years later when Patrick, who has advanced to the status of full-time soldier, is called to defend France and Belgium. Facing trench warfare firsthand, Patrick wonders, “What is worse? To be hit by a piece of shrapnel that tears off a limb and rips open your belly? Or to be killed right away?” Based on historical facts, this tale of an underage soldier captures the initial excitement and ultimate disillusionment of men, young and old, fighting at the front. Spillebeen's choice to reveal Patrick's fate in the first chapter may lessen the suspense, but readers will be emotionally prepared to bear the story's conclusion. Unadorned prose expresses unsettling truths in straightforward, clear terms. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)