cover image The Champion

The Champion

Maurice Gee. Simon & Schuster, $16 (212pp) ISBN 978-0-671-86561-0

In the vein of Summer of My German Soldier , this World War II novel traces the growing friendship between a young New Zealander and an American private on leave. Twelve-year-old Rex, who has spent a considerable amount of time fantasizing about battlefield heroics, is sorely disappointed to find that the soldier who is to stay in his home for two weeks is ``only'' a low-ranking black. Private Jackson Coop is not well received by the bigoted adults of Kettle Creek, but his sharp wit, honesty and gentle nature win him the affection of many children in the small community. After an incident at school, in which Jack gets the better of a cruel teacher, even Rex cannot help admiring the reluctant soldier from the Chicago slums. As it grows increasingly complex, this book sheds light onto the darkest sides of war, and the personal tragedies of its sharply defined characters will touch readers from all walks of life. Particularly memorable are Rex's eccentric grandparents; his father, whose dealings with the black market are a source of humor as well as tension; and two children, Dawn and Leo, who are perhaps the most sensitive to Private Coop's deep sadness. Wrought with as much intelligence as heart, this tender story can be savored many times. Ages 10-14. (Oct.)