Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Lynda Van Devanter’s Home Before Morning: The True Story of an Army Nurse in Vietnam is a narrative account of both her yearlong Army tour of duty in Vietnam and her experiences after the war. As she states in the foreword, she began the book in 1979 as a form of therapy in an attempt “somehow to exorcise the Vietnam war” from her mind. The book briefly documents her three years in nursing school and then turns to her enlistment in the Army and her tour at the 71st Evacuation Hospital in Pleiku Province, near the Cambodian border. The book is divided into twenty-one chapters and an epilogue, with the bulk of the book focusing on her year in Vietnam.

In the early chapters of the narrative, Van Devanter presents the reader with an account of her family life and explains why she chose nursing as a career. In addition, she discusses her reasons for enlisting in the Army and choosing to go to Vietnam. The author goes on to describe, in graphic and poignant detail, her year in Vietnam. The changes in her attitude toward the war become evident as the narrative continues. The last fourth of the book concentrates on Van Devanter’s attempts to readjust to the world after her experiences.

Home Before Morning presents a view of the war in Vietnam from the point of view of the doctors and nurses who had to repair the damage caused by the fighting. It is not a military account of the war, and there are few references to specific battles or troop movements. Rather, Van Devanter presents the young adult reader with specific incidents of casualties in an attempt to give as accurate a picture as possible of the day-to-day activities in an evacuation hospital. The account is punctuated with letters that the author wrote to her family, as well as with letters that they sent to her.

After Van Devanter describes her experiences in the war, she shifts the focus to her own reorientation to the world after she returned from Vietnam. The last quarter of the book is devoted to the thirteen years after the war, in which she tried to be a civilian and regain her life, both professionally and personally. In the epilogue, she describes her trip back to Vietnam on a fact-finding mission to obtain information about Americans missing in action.