Book Review: And in the Morning

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

More on World War I

• World War I

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• A Foreign Field

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John Wilson's book And in the Morning is definitely for older readers. The hero is an older teenager who gets involved in World War I. The violence is sometimes personal, and the things young Jim Hay sees are sometimes horrifying. The book is not for younger readers.

It is, however, an excellent portrayal of the horrors and dashed dreams that the Great War brought home to hundreds of thousands of Europeans and Americans in the previous century.

It was the continuation of "the last war," as so many conflicts undoubtedly are, and it killed a great many more young boys and men who ran off to experience "the glories of war." Unlike the last war, however, the Great War had terrifying new killing machines, like machine guns and tanks. Men and boys died in droves at the hands of equally terrified gunners and drivers, leaving the battlefields of France, Germany, and Belgium littered with the bones and blood of a generation of dreamers who found their anticipation of glory dashed on the hard rocks of reality.

The book's wonderful device is a diary that a British teen kept during the war years. The diary chronicles first his father's and then his own wartime experiences, with all of the innocence and terror that such experiences brought them both.

The author includes several choice utterances from the main characters that serve to illustrate the underpinnings of the successes and (mostly) failures of the war:

  • Young Jim tells his friend and fellow soldier Iain, "Surely the generals wouldn't put is in a bad position for no good reason."
  • Jim writes: "Despite our being within range of the enemy's gun in the greatest war in history, life, for the most part, is unutterably boring."
  • To his beloved Anne, Jim writes: "I have changed. In these six months I have gone through things that have marked me. I shall never be able to look at the world--or my fellow man-- in the same way again. Does war make us demons who can cheerfully kill our fellows, or are the demons only hidden at other times? I do not know. But the cheerful, enthusiastic, naive boy that you said you loved half a year ago is dead. Will you be able to love his replacement?"

Such descriptions and sentiments are a disillusionment of the shroud of glory and innocence, both for the characters and probably for many readers. This book succeeds most at describing, in sometimes grim detail, the full horrors of war, the blunders on both sides, and the resulting consequences for both the combatants and their families. A touching, sometimes funny narrative, this book is an excellent introduction or supplement to the study of World War I.

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