Robbie’s father is a spitfire pilot who was shot down during World War II and is now a POW. At only seventeen, Robbie lies about his identity to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force under the guise of going to a boarding school so that his mother doesn’t find out. He starts training in Brandon, Manitoba, but after acing all his classes, he’s dealt a disappointing blow when he’s assigned to be a navigator on a Lancaster. He wanted to be a pilot, just like his father, but the commanders of the air force have other ideas. Robbie is soon on his way to England, where he completes his training on missions bombing German targets in enemy territory. It is during one of these missions that his Lancaster is fired upon and the pilot and many of the crew are shot. It’s up to Robbie and his limited piloting experience to save the crew…and himself.
I’ll admit to an interesting relationship with Eric Walter’s books. I find that he does a tremendous amount of research for his novels, and I can appreciate the time and energy he devotes to this. However, I find at time his books can more of an “info dump”, and the storyline often suffers for the delivery of information. Luckily, this is one of the rare times where the information and the story marry well to deliver a great tale of life in the war.
I genuinely liked the character of Robbie (who assumes the identify of his deceased older brother Davie in order to enlist), and I felt that his naiveté in wanting to enlist early was portrayed effectively. The deception in the boarding school stretched the bounds a bit, but once you got beyond that and let yourself follow Robbie through basic training and flight school, it was very easy to be drawn into the story.
What I liked most about this story was that the pace was steady and that the main character remained true to who he was, while allowing for personal growth and discovery along the way. Robbie is not the same man he was when he enters the war, and it heartening to see that transformation.
The ending is perhaps a bit too pat and (SPOILER) the reader wonders after Robbie’s letter to his best friend Clay if Robbie will want to return after he is sent home as his perceptions on the validity of the war are not as they were. As well, Robbie’s missing father seems to be a dropped story thread; I hope that this does not mean that there is a sequel brewing, as this story gains its strength from being a standalone; revisiting the characters would only weaken the conclusion.
One final note – the introductory veteran’s letter is poignant while being instructive; as a teacher, I would strongly recommend that this be discussed with students so that they might understand the honesty and emotion behind the author’s words.