The Always War is written by Margaret Peterson Haddix. It was published in 2011 by Simon & Schuster. Haddix’s website can be found here.
“For as long as Tessa can remember, her country has been at war. When local golden boy Gideon Thrall is awarded a medal for courage, it’s a rare bright spot for everyone in Tessa’s town—until Gideon refuses the award, claims he was a coward, and runs away. Tessa is bewildered, and can’t help but follow Gideon to find out the truth. But Tessa is in for more than she bargained for. Before she knows it, she has stowed away on a rogue airplane headed for enemy territory. But all that pales when she discovers a shocking truth that rocks the foundation of everything she’s ever believed—a truth that could change the world. Is Tessa brave enough to bring it into the light?”
What I Liked:
The second passage that I quote below is probably my favorite dialogue of the entire book. Why? Because Tessa basically says, “No, we’re all responsible; let’s stop blaming other people/things and take responsibility for our own actions.” Yes, thank you. Finally.
The mishmashed names that the characters had for what is obviously supposed to be American landscape was amusing. I mean, Shargo? Lake Mish? While I doubt the knowledge of American cities and lakes will degenerate so far as the strange half-names that Haddix used, it’s an interesting thing to portray. Accurate? I dunno. But certainly interesting.
Character development was decent; pretty standard for this short of a book, but decent.
What I Didn’t Like:
Okay, so Haddix is obviously trying to go for a peace > (greater than) war message, which is fine. However, her message seems to be more of a not fighting > fighting, which is debatable. I mean, she ends the book with Tessa’s message going out and everyone is like “Fake war? Wow! Let’s stop fighting! Yay!” and still leaves everything such as the future and well-being of the people and the cities up in the air. And in some cases, not fighting is not > fighting, and not fighting does not necessarily = peace, as Haddix seems to portray.
The book really could have benefited from being longer. Everything was way too rushed; there was no resolution at the end (despite the happy “Yay! Peace” ending) as to what will happen to the people (I mean, just because the fighting stopped doesn’t mean their lives will necessarily get any better) and the country; and the whole “pointless war” thing going on was just strange. Okay, we get it, war is bad. But peace isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t nearly as easy as you make it out to be, so why don’t you show us a little bit more rather than the completely untrue, unrealistic not fighting > fighting message that you did show?
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Realistic, Young Adult, Science Fiction
Stop, Tessa told herself. Don’t think about the war.
It had been going on her entire life, her parents’ entire lives, her grandparents’ entire lives. The oldest person Tessa had ever heard of—Mr. Singleton from the first floor—was more than seventy, and even he didn’t remember a time before the war. It was always there, as ever-present as air. The most talented children were selected for the military academies and sent away by the time they were ten; only rarely did any of them ever come back. But even people who weren’t directly involved in the fighting were part of the war. They assembled bombs in factories; they packed food for the soldiers; they scavenged parts from damaged fighter planes.
For a moment Tessa felt like she could see the way the war weighed on everyone walking by in the darkness. People walked bent over, crouched down, defensive—looking defeated just by all the years of fighting. One figure in particular practically clutched the building, as if ready to dart in at the first sign of danger. Every few steps he’d whip his head around, as if every noise spooked him. Between steps he stood with his entire body tensed, watching.
That’s Gideon, Tessa thought. He’s escaping.
“No,” she said. “I mean, it’s not right.” Both of the others were staring at her, dumbstruck, but she bumbled on. “We shouldn’t just automatically assume that Gideon should be the one in the lead, the one at risk. We should take turns.”
“Hey,” Dek said. “He’s the one who got us in to this whole mess. He’s the one that flew us into a war zone.”
“No,” Tessa said again, stubbornly shaking her head. “We each got ourselves into our own mess. I followed him. You stowed away on his plane. We’re both responsible for being here too.”
I liked the “take responsibility” part of The Always War, but Haddix’s message about war and peace just didn’t make any sense to me, nor did it even seem realistic or possible. The book needed to be longer and more slowly developed, and those garbled American names were just really strange, although amusing.
You can buy this book here: The Always War
Coming Up Next: Sapphire Blue by Kerstin Gier