Released February 2, 2016
Bottom Line: Read it…if you’re interested in the life of a contemporary soldier.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Atria Books) via NetGalley
Though I initially had trouble focusing on this story, the personal side of war and its complexities had me captivated by the second half. It’s going on my Books for Guys and Coed Book Club Recommendations lists.
Infantry Lieutenant Jack Porter (“LT”) faces countless challenges within his unit and from above during his final days of fighting the insurgency outside of Ashuriyah, Iraq and is haunted by the mysterious disappearance of an American soldier from a previous deployment.
Why I Read It
I was curious about the soldier’s experience in the Iraq counterinsurgency and this debut novel was blurbed by Phil Klay (author of 2014 National Book Award for Fiction winner Redeployment).
Iraq War (specifically the counterinsurgency phase), soldier’s daily life, partnering with Iraqis in the war effort, effects of war on soldier’s ability to relate to family and friends back home, leadership complexities
What I Liked
- Youngblood is not a traditional “war” book (i.e. containing mostly battle strategy and play by play). Rather, it’s about the personal side of war…what it’s like to be stationed in a desolate area where nothing much happens, until it does. You get a strong sense of the boredom and daily minutiae of “outpost” life…and how that can instantly explode into a life threatening situation.
- The parts I most enjoyed were LT’s struggles with his leadership position on the ground, but still having to answer to the brass back at the base and above. LT manages extreme complexity and his attempts to navigate this in a responsible and moral way captivated me.
- I was touched by LT’s struggle to relate to his family and loved ones back home. His life is so far removed from theirs…how does he even tell them stories about what goes on in his typical day? He avoids calling his parents and lashes out at his high school sweetheart. He even has trouble connecting with his ex-soldier brother, who mentors him through some tough situations. But, how can you expect anything different from him given what he’s living through? It’s a tragedy that I’m sure is frequently repeated in real life among soldiers and their loved ones.
- The interactions and relationships between the Americans and the local population are at the crux of this story in multiple ways. The Americans rely on the locals as intel sources and partners in fighting the insurgency and this gets incredibly complicated. Who should the Americans trust? How do they balance trying to help the innocent locals with following military procedure and stamping out the insurgency? What happens when relationships become dangerously entangled?
- Gallagher is a former U.S. Captain and veteran of the Iraq war, so I obviously wondered how much of this novel is actually truth…or based on the truth. Here’s what Gallagher says on that topic in Pen America (and some more interesting tidbits can be found on his Wikipedia page):
Certainly my project is influenced and informed by my own experiences in Iraq, but I’ve learned the most by reading accounts by journalists, civilians, and soldiers who were there before (sometimes long before) or after me. – Matt Gallagher
What I Didn’t Like
- There is a lot going on in this book, especially in the beginning. I was initially overwhelmed by the military terminology and slang amongst the soldiers. I had trouble keeping track of who was who, especially the local Iraqis, sheiks, and warlords (many of them have nicknames and aliases), though it got easier to follow the farther I read (and I started taking notes).
- I should mention that I had a pretty bad cold while reading the first half, so my ability to focus wasn’t top notch…and the NyQuil haze of my bedtime reading made things even worse. I’m pretty sure my state of mind played into my initial confusion with the story, but I can’t be positive.
A Defining Quote
It’s not that he lacks a conscience, I decided. It’s that the one he has is broken in the center, because that’s what going to war over and over again does to people.
Good for People Who Like…
Books about war, books that make you think, gorgeous writing
Other Books You May Like
Nonfiction dealing with PTSD in soldiers returning from Iraq:
Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel