3 out of 4 stars
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War changes people. It destroys lives and uproots routines. In Wonks, by William Reese Hamilton, we get to find out just how far the damage goes. The author draws inspiration from his own experience at Santo Tomas Internment Camp during World War II to write the story of young Johnny Oldfield and his adventures with his family and friends in the prison camp.
Johnny recounts his experience from the age of twelve when he and his mother are previously taken as prisoners to the Santo Tomas Camp in the Philippines. He progressed to introduce some people that he met and their different personalities, which made camp an exciting place, filled not only with tales of survival, but also stories of malice, backbiting, and even reconciliation. Johnny takes an almost comical style in narrating the horrors of the prison camp as he tells us what it is like being a teenager growing up in such circumstances and how difficult it can get. While on this awful ride, Johnny finds a brother in Polecat, and together, they have exhilarating adventures that make life brighter and more enjoyable. But with starvation, torture, and their friends getting either executed or taken to different camps, how long can they remain happy? While all these are taking place, Johnny’s father is nowhere to be found. Will he ever be found?
The author takes a light and almost comical tone in narrating horrific experiences of war and imprisonment, so, where I should have been sad and depressed, I was excited for the next adventure of Johnny and Polecat. The story is also narrated in the first-person narrative. This made it easy to understand Johnny’s thoughts, while, at the same time, laughing out loud to his hilarious innuendos. I especially liked that even when I could see the terrible things happening, there were still many things to laugh and be happy about. Several places in the Philippines were mentioned, and this was an educating experience for me because I did not previously know them. The author also shows a strong family bond and how important it is for the family to remain together through even “the worst hell.” Something that stuck with me was the insinuation that we find our most authentic self in the harshest conditions.
While the latter part of this text was commendably engaging and exhilarating, the beginning dragged on for too long, including unnecessary conversations and recounted stories by other characters. Running on the first chapter alone, I felt this book deserved a one-star rating. However, this perception changed later on. Another thing I disliked was the author’s writing style. He employed an overly informal writing style, with the use of too many short forms that I found challenging to keep up with, and even though I eventually got used to it, I would have preferred a more straightforward and more understandable writing style from the get-go. Also, the story contained too many characters that it was confusing to remember everyone. Because of this quality of the text, I felt that there wasn’t much room for proper character development for most of the characters.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the latter part of this piece, owing to my complaints, I have decided to rate it 3 out of 4 stars. The book seemed professionally edited since I only found an error. However, if the author can improve his writing style and remove the unnecessary bits, I think this book will be 4-star material. This piece contains profanity and derogatory terms, so it will not appeal to sensitive people. It contains minimal kissing scenes. I recommend this book to adults who are interested in war stories.
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