MY SECRET WAR: The WWII Diary of Madeline Beck (Dear America) by Mary Pope Osborne (Scholastic, 2000)
GENRE: History - Fiction
REVIEW: My Secret War: The World War II Diary of Madeline Beck is a solid, if somewhat uninspired novel that blends nonfiction and fiction into the narrative of one girl’s wartime experiences between 1941-1942. Maddie is an earnest protagonist who’s Lt. Colonial father is stationed in the Pacific when Roosevelt declares war on the Japanese and the Allied powers officially form. Told in diary form, the story moves at an efficient pace as Maddie navigates the social difficulties of being the new girl at school, finds purpose by organizing war efforts for local kids on the home front and even experiences her first romantic relationship. Though a bit superficial through the first 2/3’s of the book, the story reaches a nice emotional depth when Maddie’s father is wounded in battle. The supporting characters are all nicely drawn, with both adults and kids reacting realistically to the outbreak of the war and the war culture that sprouted up over night in the States. Though the dialogue of colloquially neutral (an effective choice), Osborne sometimes sprinkles in period slang, like “jeepers” and “doggone it”. Though a bit heavy-handed, it does help establish the period.
OPINION: Overall, this a solid offering. The blend of fiction and nonfiction is a bit too seemless at times – real events are credited to fictional characters – but the amount of information and exposition that Osborne packs into the epistolary structure is impressive and well-placed. Beneath the agelessness of tween angst is a history lesson worth learning, and My Secret War is a nice dose of sugar to help it go down.
IDEAS: As with all the titles in the Dear America series, My Secret War would be great supplemental reading for classroom use. It’s also a good recommendation for kids interested in WWII and a nice addition to a display on D-Day or Pearl Harbor.