This is a sparse, beautifully written story about learning to truly see people, situations, and emotions as they are, not as we want to see them.


When twelve-year-old Jamie Dexter’s brother joins the Army and is sent to Vietnam, Jamie is plum thrilled. She can’t wait to get letters from the front lines describing the excitement of real-life combat: the sound of helicopters, the smell of gunpowder, the exhilaration of being right in the thick of it. After all, they’ve both dreamed of following in the footsteps of their father, the Colonel.

But TJ’s first letter isn’t a letter at all. It’s a roll of undeveloped film, the first of many. What Jamie sees when she develops TJ’s photographs reveals a whole new side of the war. Slowly the shine begins to fade off of Army life – and the Colonel. How can someone she’s worshipped her entire life be just as helpless to save her brother as she is?

From the author of the Edgar Award-winning Dovey Coe comes a novel, both timely and timeless, about the sacrifices we make for what we believe and the people we love.

Awards and Nominations

Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book
Christopher Award
Capitol Choices List (DC)
CBC/NCSS Notable Children’s Book in Social Studies
CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children’s Book Council)
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award Master List (VT)
Golden Sower Masterlist (NE)
Kentucky Bluegrass Award Master List
NYPL 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
Rebecca Caudill Award Master List (IL)
Rhode Island Teen Book Award Nominee
Virginia Readers’ Choice Award Master List

Dowell captures Jamie’s growing self-awareness and maturity with the slightly detached, wistful tone of a memoir related well after the fact, and the precise clarity of a developing photograph. This thoughtful and satisfying story is more a novel of family and growth than of war. Readers will find beauty in its resolution, and will leave this eloquent heroine reluctantly. This is Dowell’s most cohesive and engaging novel yet.

—School Library Journal (starred review)