Updated: Jan 20, 2019
Thanks to Scholastic for providing me with an advance reader’s copy for the purposes of review.
New York Times bestselling-author Alan Gratz has returned with yet another compelling and interesting story, Grenade. Following in the footsteps of his previous books, Grenade is a historical fiction piece that tells the tale of young people struggling to overcome the hardships presented by war, in this case, World War II. It was an entertaining, gripping, and at times, heartbreaking tale of the hardships opposing sides faced. The book is highly recommendable to a large demographic, as it is a comfortable read without many difficult segments. The book did, however, have a couple flaws that became apparent quickly. Gratz’s approach to the book, a tale made up of experiences from multiple points of view, can cause jarring shifts in tone. Since the book follows the story of two characters, the tonal shifts from each can come as out of nowhere. The book is also more of an enjoyable read than a true exploration of war time horrors and perseverance. It never dives into the shock or emotions that would be a result from war time, deciding only to portray surface level emotions. Because of this, Grenade feels weak in what was presented to us versus what could’ve been, especially given Gratz’s other, more impressive works such as 2017’s Refugee. Despite these complaints, it serves as an excellent historical fiction read that presents meaningful views of variant aspects of World War II.
First and foremost, Grenade is easily distinguishable as a book written by Alan Gratz. While this is not a bad thing, it makes the formulaic approach to the book painfully obvious. Aside from two moments, no real jarring or impactful events occur in the book. Despite those two moments being done with well timing and as subversions of expected tropes, there needs to be more for the book to be memorable. Earlier in the review, I described the read as an enjoyable view of “variant aspects of World War II.” This is certainly true throughout its miniscule length, however, the day after reading the book, not much stuck with me thematically. I remembered the experience as a whole, but failed to remember any moments that actually occurred. This is large in part to the thematic aspects of the book. The themes which were present were handled weakly. The impact they had was good, however, so much more could have been brought. It almost seems at times that Gratz was restricted by the YA boundaries, causing him to cheapen and blunt the rather mature themes of the story, including provoking messages such as personal sacrifice. Ultimately, the book’s handling of the plot and themes has some brilliant concepts that could have created some memorable and traumatic sequences. However, it fails to grab the potential of those concepts, creating a thematic experience that is memorable as a whole, but lacking in moments.
Despite the complaints about how the plot was handled, the ideas Gratz presents for storytelling are truly magnificent. Set in the middle of the conflict, Grenade is masterful tale including point of views from two characters on opposing sides of the conflict. On one hand, we follow Hideki, a fourth year Okinawan boy known for being the descendant of a cowardly ancestor, Shigemoto. We follow Hideki’s journey as his life is turned upside down by the invasion of U.S forces. His pain is clear throughout the story, whether it be from his fear of losing his family, or from his desire to get rid of the cowardice that has plagued him for his whole life. Throughout the book, it is very clear that we are following a person, not an emotionless robot, with Hideki going through all stages of emotions, even though the dialogue of the character is often muddled and riddled with clichés of the genre. On the other side of the conflict, we follow Ray, a new Marine recruit. Ray’s journey is one of venturing into unknown territory and the emotions that follow. One of the first experience for Ray in the book is his first battle. We learn a great deal about Ray’s mixture of emotions during the ordeal. From fear of getting killed, to actual relief of going to battle for the first time, Ray is also clearly shown as a human, with hardships that feel truly lived in through the book. Never once do these characters feel boring, always showing a different, more poetic side to themselves than the last. All readers will be on the edge of their seats as the stories of both characters meet in a wonderful, thrilling moment.
Grenade, as a whole, is an enjoyable historical fiction piece that presents how something as widespread as World War II would look from a different, more grounded perspective. It may be riddled with issues that cause a dispersed and cluttered story. But it ultimately overcomes those obstacles to create a read that is recommended to most of Gratz’s previous fans. However, with the noticeable lacks of memorable moments and powerful storytelling, the book simply can’t be anything more than just another enjoyable read.
Score: 7.6 out of 10
Written by Saketh Tetali
Read the full story and experience the moments teased earlier, read Grenade by Alan Gratz, which is set to come out October 9, 2018, and our previously released editorial review for the book here.