Harry Mazer's A Boy at War, published in 2001, recounts the experiences of fourteen-year-old Adam Pelko. Adam is a young man from a military family who lives in Hawaii in the days leading up to and during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
It is just a matter of chance that Adam and two friends are fishing in a rowboat on the harbor on that fateful morning when the attack occurs. At first, the boys assume that they have been caught in a drill, but quickly realize that the planes and bombs are real. In the confusion following the initial onslaught, Adam helplessly witnesses the sinking of the Arizona, the ship on which his father is stationed.
A Boy at War's target audience is the middle school reader. Although the book is short (just around one-hundred pages) and simply written, it has a great deal of substance. Not only does it accurately and realistically re-create a tragic and pivotal event in history, but it also addresses themes that are universal and pertinent to the day. Perhaps the most notable of these is an exploration of the roots of racial profiling and discrimination. It is no accident that one of Adam's friends on the rowboat that morning, Davi Mori, is Japanese American. With war against the Japanese imminent, Adam's father, as a military man with a reputation to uphold, had ordered Adam not to associate with his Japanese American classmate. Adam decides on his own that his father's outlook is wrong, yet when he sees the Japanese planes raining destruction upon the American battleships, his gut instinct is to take out his fury on Davi, for the simple reason that he looks like the enemy. Adam struggles between what he knows rationally about his friend as an individual and his visceral reaction to the destruction wreaked by men who share his friend's racial characteristics. Despite his misgivings, Adam manages to overcome his suspicions, fear, and rage to maintain his friendship with the Japanese American boy.
In addition to being a notable work of historical fiction, A Boy at War is a story about growing up. It is the first in a trilogy which includes A Boy No More, an account of Adam's life in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, and Heroes Don't Run, which describes his harrowing experiences as a Marine fighting in the Pacific during the closing days of the war.