Dogtag Summer, by Elizabeth Partridge;
Bloomsbury: New York, 2011; $16.99
I’m not adopted, but what if I was? What if one day you wake up and find out that the people who have watched and cared for you all of your life did not give birth to you? Would it make a difference? Does it even matter who your parents are? What really is a parent? Are they the people who raise you or the people who create you?
Tracy is adopted. Her real name is the Song of the Shorebirds in Vietnam: too-et, too-et. She can only vaguely remember her biological mom from her early years in war-torn Vietnam. She never met her father and, when she begins to search for him, she must dig deep into forbidden territory.
Tracy is happy in America with her American family. She is sometimes teased at school because she looks different, but her best friend, Stargazer, likes her just fine. She never thought much about her life in Vietnam, until she and Stargazer stumble upon her American dad’s old ammo box and find a dogtag. Once the box is opened, it seems to release all the pent-up ghosts of ’Nam’s past, and, for reasons Tracy doesn’t understand, these ghosts make her dad really mad. Tracy tries to ignore all of it, but Stargazer is curious and won’t give up. They soon discover that the box belongs to her biological father, James B. Kirby, and the tensions threaten to ruin her friendship with Stargazer. Will Tracy’s horrific past in Vietnam be revealed? What is her dad keeping a secret? Will she remember her early years in Vietnam? I would recommend you read the book and find out.
I felt a comfortable connection to Tracy’s creativity and her love of adventure out in nature. In the summer, she and Stargazer built a Viking funeral ship out of scavenged materials. They set it on fire and watched it float down the river. My sister, Tessa, and I spend a lot of time outside hiking and exploring. We have a stream that provides many battlefields for the unexpected ambushes of our imaginations. Many days, we return home soaking wet and exhausted. Once, we built a duck sled made of cardboard for a race. The rules said that you have to make it down the hill with only cardboard touching the ground. I made cardboard slippers so I could run down the hill with huge cardboard-box overalls. That was my strange-looking sled.
Tessa read the book too, and she said, “I kept wondering where the scar on Tracy’s neck came from and why she had such a strong reaction to the scissors in the ammo box. I have a scar above my lip. When I was six years old a rooster attacked me. With wings stretched out, he came at me fast and clawed my face. I was scared of roosters for a long time. I could tell that there was something Tracy was scared of too.”
I strongly recommend Dogtag Summer for young readers from the age of seven to sixteen. If you enjoy history, adventure, or a good mystery, you will like this book. Dogtag Summer is a suspenseful, dramatic story that will keep you on your toes. It is a detailed description of a young girl’s life, as well as a glimpse of the war in Vietnam.