“Spanky: A Soldier’s Son” is a young adult novel that tells the story of a Middle School student, Seamus “Spanky” McDougal and his struggle against a bully, his wish to get a girl’s attention, prove himself during an Outdoor Education camping trip and deal with his mother who has depression. All of this takes place against the backdrop of his father’s deployment to Afghanistan.
“Make me proud,” Spanky’s Dad tells him just before he leaves. Spanky wants nothing more than his father’s approval and to fit into his new school. Throughout the 255-page book Spanky worries that he doesn’t measure up. Every time he has the chance to do something heroic, such as administering CPR to his teacher, he freezes.
By creating a character with depression (Spanky’s mother), and a father who is on deployment, LaNeve has opened the way for her young protagonist to grow. Spanky learns that inner strength comes from speaking one’s truth not from hiding it in an attempt to protect the ones you love.
Questions a young reader might have about war and depression are asked, but not answered, in the email exchanges between Spanky and his father. The questions include whether the US should do nothing when it comes to Afghanistan, whether the people in Afghanistan should be helping themselves, whether American soldiers should continue to die, etc.
LaNeve’s connection to the military comes from her late father. She explains how she never spoke with him directly about his experiences. Rather, she overheard his conversations with his friends. As a result she has created characters that initially hide their true feelings and thoughts to protect the ones they love. Ultimately, Spanky and his friends learn speaking the truth is not only liberating, it allows for growth.
The shelves are filled with many books about bullying and separation. “Spanky: A Soldier’s Son” stands out because its about so much more – its about learning to speak ones truth.
Reviewed by: Cathryn Prince (2013)
Spanky loves snakes, sketching, camping, and, well, maybe girls. While his dad is fighting grown bullies in Afghanistan, school bully, Mack Malone, has Spanky in his crosshairs. Worse yet, whenever Spanky needs to defend himself, help a friend, or. . . OMG. . . save his teacher's life, he freezes! The overnight Outdoor Ed camping trip is Spanky's best chance to catch the attention of a special girl. It could also make his dad proud to have him for a son. Turns out, it could get him suspended. Ultimately, Spanky learns to face his fears and what it really means to be a hero.