It is never easy choosing a book for the One Book, One Community event. The committee reads dozens of books and discusses them repeatedly. We also listen to what the community is reading and look at what other cities are reading for their programs. Everyone's reading tastes are so different and choosing a book that will appeal to 18 year olds and octogenarians is daunting. This year was no different. As we were reading books, I had my weekly phone chat with my 90 year old mother. We always discuss books (she is a retired English teacher). She told me she was reading The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. This was the second person in a week that had told me they were reading or had heard an interview on NPR about The Yellow Birds.
Kevin Powers tells the story of a twenty-one year old Army soldier fighting in Iraq. My mom told me at times she had to put the book down because she was thinking so much of her grandson, my nephew, who had completed three tours of duty in the Middle East as an U.S. Army soldier, and the atrocities he saw and the life-altering decisions he had to make. I decided that I needed to read The Yellow Birds and to share it with the One Book, One Community committee.
The Yellow Birds had me at the first sentence, "the war tried to kill us in the spring." The book tells the story of two Army soldiers, ages 18 and 21 who meet for the first time standing next to each other in formation at Fort Nix, New Jersey. We are taken through the horrors of war through their eyes and one soldier’s crippling promise to the mother of another soldier. Powers, a creative writer and poet, tells the story in a gritty yet poetic style. His insight to the characters has to be semi-autobiographical since he was a gunner in the U.S. Army and deployed to Iraq. Powers writes of the friendship of these two soldiers and their fight to stay alive on the battlefield. He takes the story full circle with one of the soldier's struggle to come back to life in his hometown, and with his family and friends.
While The Yellow Birds is not an a gentle read nor is it easy, I believe it is a book every American should read so that we can attempt to have a hint of understanding about what those who have seen war or have fought a war go through. To suggest that those of us who have never seen war, but on TV, understand what war does to civilians in the countries where war is fought and to the men and women who fight in them is absurd. However, The Yellow Birds has helped me better understand what haunts my nephew.
I hope you will join us for the One Book, One Community events starting with the kick-off on August 25 at 7pm in the Hannah Community Center. If you cannot make it to the kick-off, join us on August 26 at 4pm at the East Lansing Public Library for Afternoon Coffee with Author Kevin Powers. All are welcome.