Before Jamie Dexter’s brother goes off to fight in the Vietnam War, she begs him to write her letters from the frontlines. She wants to hear all about the explosions, the tactics, the weapons, and most of all, the glory of war. But when Jamie receives a package from TJ, it isn’t a letter at all. It’s a roll of undeveloped film. Luckily, there’s a developing room on the military base where Jamie and her family live (her father’s a high-ranking soldier himself). As Jamie processes her brother’s film, she comes to see that life in the Vietnam jungle isn’t as wonderful as she imagined; in fact, some of the images are too graphic to show her mother. This is strange. All their lives, Jamie and TJ have dreamed of hand-to-hand combat and doing their duty “the army way.” But TJ’s photos tell a different story: one of loss and fear and indignity and even boredom. If war isn’t as good as it seems, if the military life isn’t the best life, then what sort of person is Jamie supposed to be? Can she find another identity for herself besides that of the colonel’s daughter? And will TJ make it home safely? When his rolls of film suddenly stop arriving, Jamie realizes that her beloved brother might have made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
This is a short, powerful novel that’s fascinating from the first page. It’s not so much about war as about the people left behind – the parents waiting for news, the sister playing cards to pass time, the young men anticipating the day their turn for battle will arrive. I recommend it to anyone who likes photography or history, or anyone who needs to finish a book sheet fast.