Bruchac, Joseph. Code Talker: a novel about the Navajo Marines of World War Two. Dial Books: New York, 2005.
Ned Begay wants to join the war, especially when he hears that Navajos are being recruited specifically. He lies about his age so he can enlist, goes through boot camp, and finds himself involved in a top-secret task performed only by Navajos, as a code talker. Code Talkers were a crucial part of WWII. They helped US efforts by sending messages back and forth in an unbreakable code using their language. This is a story of the legendary Code Talkers.
This book is so important for multicultural literature and literature in general. WWII is one of the most highly discussed wars and shows up so often in books (such as The Book Thief or The Librarian of Auschwitz). However, even in our history classrooms, the contribution of the Navajos are barely touched on, if even mentioned at all. They were key in our win in the war, and without their sacrifice and bravery, we would have been severely impacted. That’s why I think this book is so important.
Not only is the historic impact of this book significant, it’s significant to Native American literature. The choices, especially for young adults, are few and far between. Not much is written on Native Americans and there is very little representation for their ethnic group in literature. This book focuses on Navajo Native Americans and the treatment that they received before, during, and after the war.
The book is very well written. It is styled with Grandfather telling his grandchildren about the events. Using this narrative voice mutes the horror of war a little, making it more palatable for children. While I understand the desire to not subject kids to the horrors of our world, and to keep them innocent for as long as we can, we gain nothing by keeping them in the dark and uninformed. But it’s also just a fantastic way to tell this kind of story. While you read, you feel as if you are sitting around a campfire, listening to the grandfather tell his story. It’s very inclusive in that you feel like you are apart of it. The flow and pacing were really well done, and the characters were well developed.
I would highly recommend this book to others, especially for those interested in military novels, history, or multicultural literature.
From School Library Journal:
“In the measured tones of a Native American storyteller, Bruchac assumes the persona of a Navajo grandfather telling his grandchildren about his World War II experiences. Protagonist Ned Begay starts with his early schooling at an Anglo boarding school, where the Navajo language is forbidden, and continues through his Marine career as a “code talker,” explaining his long silence until “de-classified” in 1969. Begay’s lifelong journey honors the Navajos and other Native Americans in the military, and fosters respect for their culture. Bruchac’s gentle prose presents a clear historical picture of young men in wartime, island hopping across the Pacific, waging war in the hells of Guadalcanal, Bougainville, and Iwo Jima. Nonsensational and accurate, Bruchac’s tale is quietly inspiring, even for those who have seen Windtalkers, or who have read such nonfiction works as Nathan Aaseng’s Navajo Code Talkers (Walker, 1992), Kenji Kawano’s Warriors: Navajo Code Talkers (Northland, 1990), or Deanne Durrett’s Unsung Heroes of World War II: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers (Facts On File, 1998).”
“Six-year-old Ned Begay leaves his Navajo home for boarding school, where he learns the English language and American ways. At 16, he enlists in the U.S. Marines during World War II and is trained as a code talker, using his native language to radio battlefield information and commands in a code that was kept secret until 1969. Rooted in his Navajo consciousness and traditions even in dealing with fear, loneliness, and the horrors of the battlefield, Ned tells of his experiences in Hawaii, Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. The book, addressed to Ned’s grandchildren, ends with an author’s note about the code talkers as well as lengthy acknowledgments and a bibliography. The narrative pulls no punches about war’s brutality and never adopts an avuncular tone. Not every section of the book is riveting, but slowly the succession of scenes, impressions, and remarks build to create a solid, memorable portrayal of Ned Begay. Even when facing complex negative forces within his own country, he is able to reach into his traditional culture to find answers that work for him in a modern context. Readers who choose the book for the attraction of Navajo code talking and the heat of battle will come away with more than they ever expected to find.”
From Kirkus Reviews:
“When WWII broke out, Navajos…were recruited by the Marine Corps to use their native language to create an unbreakable code….Telling his story to his grandchildren, Ned relates his experiences in school, military training, and across the Pacific….With its multicultural themes and well-told WWII history, this will appeal to a wide audience.”
Other books by Joseph Bruchac
Skeleton Man ISBN 9780064408882
The First Strawberries ISBN 9780140564099
Dragon Castle ISBN 9780803733763
Eyes of the Emperor by Graham Sailsbury ISBN 9780440229568
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry ISBN 9780547577098
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein ISBN 9781423152880