Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Purple Daze by Sherry Shahan

Sherry Shahan and I meet at the SCIBA Dinner

I had the pleasure on February 26 of attending the SCIBA (Southern California Independent Booksellers Association) annual Children’s Book and Literacy Dinner in Pasadena. I went home with a large pile of wonderful books to work my way through, including the ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) for Purple Daze, by Sherry Shahan (published by Running Press Teens). I was especially excited to read the book after meeting and visiting with Sherry and learning that the novel was set in 1965 in the San Fernando Valley suburbs of Los Angeles where Sherry grew up.
Sherry in her high school yearbook

While she was experiencing high school life and receiving first-hand information about the escalating Vietnam War in letters from a friend stationed there, I was growing up “over the hill” in nearby West Los Angeles. Even though I was just a few miles away and less than a handful of years younger, my personal life was in a very different world. In my little world, all my friends went straight from high school to college, and parents did everything they could to save their sons from the draft. So, while I witnessed the same historic events Sherry brings to life in her book, my only personal perspective on the war was my male friends’ efforts to avoid it and all my friends' protests against our participation in it. Even as I reached high school and college and had many male friends who feared the possibility of being drafted, I never had a close friend actually go to Vietnam.

Letter Sherry received from her
friend in Vietnam.
While Shahan’s book led me to revisit a time in my life from a different perspective than my own, it offers its target audience of young adults a vivid, absorbing picture of the challenges many teens faced during this trying time in our history. Sherry tells her story in verse, using letters and journal entries of six high school friends dealing with the war, riots in Los Angeles, the attractions of drugs, an unwanted pregnancy, friendship, betrayal, and forgiveness, as two of the young men join the war effort – one in the Marines in Vietnam and the other in the Navy in the West Indies. Interspersed with these personal accounts are passages offering valuable historical background information for the reader.  Sherry’s fictionalized autobiographical account of her experiences and those of her friends provides readers with a rich snapshot of this time and will encourage them to ponder the decisions we make, the value of friendship, and the impact of war in our own time. The book was just published in late March, and I will definitely be stocking it in my high school library and sharing it with students.

Here’s the booktalk I am also publishing in my library blog and on my library website: