Kirkus reviewed Amaryllis by Curtis Crist-Evans as the "...the finest depiction of war we've yet seen." This is a great statement, but please - PLEASE - don't think that you have to be the slightest bit interested in war fiction to be impressed by this book. One of the reasons why I think it has gone a bit undernoticed is because of reviewers who aren't fond of historical fiction or war books and think that is what the book is all about. It does take place during the Vietnam War, one of the main characters does enlist and go to Vietnam and he does write letters about his experiences to his younger brother, who stayed behind. So yes - all of that makes it a book about war.
But, Amaryllis is also about brothers, and families and growing up. It is as much a coming-of-age story as war story, as much about what happens to Jimmy Staples who remains in Florida as it is about his big brother Frank who slowly unravels in the jungles of Vietnam.
It's about the non-glory of war and the pain of being left behind; about what parents don't understand about their children, what girls do sometimes understand about boys and what brothers need to know about each other. There's also Florida surfing (something I know a thing or two about), finding gators in the swamp and houses with jalousie windows. It's as much about what Florida used to be as it is about the war we once fought. And it is completely - and compellingly - about that invisible barrier that must be crossed by teenage boys on the way to becoming young men. Far too few books are written about how boys grow up, and Amaryllis is one of the best on this subject I've ever read. As Jimmy stumbles along at the beach and home, slowly finding his way in the larger world, and Frank falls to pieces in the place he thought would make him a man, readers are able to witness a very honest portrayal of what it is like to make that transition to adulthood. They see Frank and Jimmy in the beginning, as carefree surfers, and they see them at the end, after so much has gone to hell. It's gripping, it's beautiful and it's hard to walk away from.
Amaryllis is a book I reviewed over a year ago and have not been able to forget. More folks should know about it and for sure, it should be recommended to every teenage boy you know. (Pair it with The Things They Carried for the ultimate look at boys and life, and men and war.) If there's anyway you can fit this title into your summer reading list (or even better, a high school curriculum), don't pass up on the chance. You won't be disappointed, I promise!
UPDATED: Here are some more Wicked Cool Overlooked Books that everyone should know about:
Kelly Fineman enjoyed Your Own, Sylvia (I'll be reviewing this one in a few months at Bookslut).
I'll be back the first Monday in June with another Wicked Cool Overlooked Book!