PTSD in Fiction Connects with Readers
Some people, such my dad, will not read fiction. To them, fiction is not true. I disagree. Nonfiction may be factual, but fiction can often show truths in ways mere facts cannot. What fiction can do, especially in middle grade and young adult novels, is to hold up a mirror in which readers can see themselves or others. Fiction helps them make sense of life as it shows truths one step removed from what may be chaos in their own lives.
Considering that somewhere in the world there has been war since probably the beginning of history, chances are good that people who read NO SURRENDER SOLDIER know of someone close to them who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
When I wrote the characters in NO SURRENDER SOLDIER I didn’t intentionally match their behavior to characteristics of PTSD. I didn’t Google a veteran’s website such as http://maketheconnection.net/conditions/ptsd?gclid=CIWz4YKjw74CFTBk7AodbiwAWA Make the Connection: Shared Experiences and Support for Veterans
What I did when writing my characters was to observe people. The WWII Japanese soldier Isamu Seto is modeled after the real “No Surrender Soldier” Shoichi Yokoi, whom I studied from news clippings and his autobiography. When I wrote the grandfather, Tatan San Nicolas, it was probably a composite of men with dementia whom I observed while working in media at a long-term care community specializing in Alzheimer’s. I honestly don’t know where Kiko and his family came from. They walked fully developed on the page since the first draft.
Yet, in the final editing and copy editing stage I was acutely aware of all the ways characters in NO SURRENDER SOLDIER display symptoms of PTSD, as they should since they all have been affected by war.
The character who most obviously suffers from PTSD, and in the worse way, is Isamu Seto, the WWII Japanese soldier who hid in the jungles of Guam for 28 years. Every time a plane flies overhead he remembers the kamikaze pilots during WWII. When Seto bags frogs, their high pitched squeaks sound like his comrades screaming during battle. Ghosts march through the soldier’s underground hovel.
TATAN BIHU SAN NICOLAS
One sad fact about people with severe dementia or Alzheimer’s is that they lose short-term memory yet retain long-term memory as if they are living in the past. Tatan bihu San Nicolas, Kiko’s grandfather, has lytico bodig, which has symptoms of dementia and Parkinson’s. To simplify his illness in the story I just called it dementia. But Tatan’s dementia is the catalyst that upsets the balance in this family and puts heavy burdens on 15-year-old Kiko’s shoulders. It makes sense that the period of Tatan’s life that he reverted back to re-living in his demented state is WWII, when atrocities plagued his family in legions due to Guam being conquered and subjugated by the Japanese soldiers. So with Tatan, the dementia and PTSD interweaves to make a complex force in his emotions and behavior. Readers have said they love the relationship between Tatan and Kiko, which I find interesting since their relationship is the most contentious.
NANA, ROSELINA CHARGALAUF
Kiko’s mother, Nana, refuses to talk about WWII, especially the atrocity that happened to her. Everyone—her husband, her neighbors, and later her own son—don’t push the issue with Rosie. It is not denial that drives Roselina Chargalauf to not talk about the war, and rape. But rather respect. She loves her husband Ferdinand, not just as her husband but because he accepted responsibility of being Sammy’s father, and will not allow anyone to question Sammy’s parentage, despite the fact that Sammy clearly looks half-Japanese and Ferdinand and Rosie were not married or courting when Rosie became pregnant with Sammy. But now two incidents are causing symptoms of PTSD to arise in Nana: 1.) Sammy is a USAF navigator in Vietnam during 1972. 2.) Tatan’s dementia causing him to re-live WWII. Rosie exhibits signs of PTSD by becoming more emotional and vacillating from denial to anger to tears.
Kiko, the 15-year-old main character, and his friends are post-war babies. Yet once Kiko discovers the atrocities that happened to his nana, then other family members during WWII, combined with his brother Sammy flying missions in the Vietnam conflict, Kiko begins experiencing early stages of PTSD. He has difficulty developing intimacy with Daphne, a girl he has a crush on, because he can’t stop thinking about the sexual act connected with rape. He has nightmares. He lashes out in anger, even against his best friend. After finding a bomb in his yard Kiko doesn’t even feel safe at home. Kiko experiences rage and disconnects emotionally when wanting to retaliate in revenge against a stranger whom he sees as an enemy instead of a human being.
PTSD IN THEME
The theme of NO SURRENDER SOLDIER is how war affects families for generations. No wonder this family in crisis is fighting the demons of a present war present and ghosts of a past war.
NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, Merit Press, 2014
“An interesting account of history that paints a picture of life both on and off the battlefield.” - Booklist