Framing a Picture of War

Grenade by Alan Gratz

It’s 1945 and World War II is raging. 

On the island of Okinawa, by Japan, 14-year-old Hideki is thrust into the conflict. The Japanese army control the island and force boys to serve in the Blood and Iron Student Corps. 

At the same time, an 18-year-old American, Ray Majors, fights his first battle of the war as the Marines invade Okinawa.

In alternating chapters, author Alan Gratz tells Hideki and Ray’s different yet similar stories as they face fear, chaos, carnage, destruction, loss of civilian lives, PTSD (though they aren’t aware of the condition), and the ever-present reality of becoming “monsters.”

Hideki longs to be brave. A family curse (rooted in Okinawan religious beliefs) has hung over his spirit, and he hopes to get rid of it to prove once and for all that he’s courageous. As he struggles with challenges almost too great for a boy to bear, he remembers the words of a Japanese military photographer whom he once helped to explore the island. Lieutenant Tanaka had said, “What story does the picture tell? That’s what I’m always asking myself. Not just what’s happening in the photograph I take, but what happened before it was taken, and what will happen afterward. How you frame a photo says everything about the story you’re trying to tell.” 

Employing the metaphor of framing a picture, Gratz skilfully crafts the story and theme of this tempestuous, intense young adult novel. He clearly shows that war isn’t a glorious adventure, and that, despite victories claimed and freedoms achieved, everyone involved in war is either destroyed by it or wounded by it, scarred in some way for the rest of their lives.  

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