4 out of 4 stars
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I know a woman never tells her age, but I'm 37 years old. While I've seen many conflicts, I've never been around for a major war. In my lifetime, there has never been a draft. It's something with which I've had little experience. So, when I saw the opportunity to read The Fourteenth of September by Rita Dragonette, I jumped at the chance, as it discusses the Vietnam War.
The year is 1969. The place? Central Illinois University. Judy Talton is a college student on scholarship from the army in their nursing program. In exchange for her schooling, she's committed seven years of her life, in total, to this branch of the military. She's uncertain, though, if she wants to support the war effort. The body count (those killed in action) increases by the day. In order to figure out where she stands, she starts hanging around with the anti-war protesters. If she's discovered, however, she could lose her scholarship, or worse, her freedom.
The story is told from the third-person point of view and centers on Judy and her newfound friends. These kids, most no older than 19, face moral dilemmas that most of us have never even dreamed about. They are flawed; they are good and bad. Mostly, though, they're just kids wanting to get the most out of their lives.
I had a difficult time relating to Judy. I found myself angry at her for not figuring herself out sooner. Wouldn't it be prudent to evaluate your pro-war or anti-war status before you enter into a relationship with the military? I don't see this as a flaw of the book or the author, though. I think it is just a realistic depiction of the dilemma that teenagers faced. As I stated in my opening paragraph, I haven't had to deal with these situations. It's easy for me to sit here in the present day and age, saying what I would or would not do. But, I found myself thinking about my own moral convictions and my sense of right and wrong. Plus, since I'm a woman, I wouldn't have faced the lottery at the age of 19, which would have put me into the heart of a place where my life expectancy was a total of 6 seconds (at least according to this story.) The answers, then, are not as cut and dry as they appear to be. In my opinion, this is the biggest strength of the book - it makes you think.
If I'm forced to identify something that I didn't like, I'd have to say I wanted more information on the other side of the debate. The book focuses mostly on the anti-war movement. But, why did we go into Vietnam in the first place? Once again, this is probably more my failing than the book's. I don't know enough about this era in history. In fact, I don't even remember learning much about it in school. All the more reason for books such as this, as we should remember our past in order to not repeat it.
I must issue a warning. There are mature themes in the book. There is some drug use, there are sexual situations, people are contemplating suicide, and men are dying. The author is no more detailed than necessary, and this is all very fitting for that day and age. However, it means that the book is not suitable for all audiences.
Due to the lack of faults as well as the thought-provoking nature of the book, I rate The Fourteenth of September 4 out of 4 stars. I recommend this for those that enjoy character-driven stories and want to learn more about the anti-war efforts during the Vietnam War. I wouldn't recommend it to those that only read books full of action or even those who are looking for a balanced view of this time period. This novel is extremely provocative, and I think it's something that should be savored and not hurried through.
The Fourteenth of September
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