I Had Seen Castles by Cynthia Rylant
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: historical fiction, YA
Review: This is not meant to be a book of suspense. From the very beginning we know that the narrator is telling us the story of his experiences during World War II from many years since that time. We need not even have any suspense about the fate of his relationship with the girl he left behind, as it's reasonably clear that he's alone when he tells us the story.
Rather, this is a story of what happened to one boy when the U.S. entered WWII. Told with incredible detail, Rylant puts us inside the head of a seventeen-year-old boy who can think of nothing else but joining the army and doing his patriotic duty. Until he meets Ginny, who challenges all of his beliefs about war and patriotism. Looking back on it, he is able to recognize her extreme courage in speaking out against war and encouraging him to register as a conscientious objector, but at the time, all he could see was all the other boys going off to war, even though he knew that all too many of them were not coming home.
He joins up as soon as he is able and is shipped off to the European front. His patriotic ideals last for a while, but soon he admits that he is killing the enemy only to stay alive himself. Ginny's letters ring too true to bear, and eventually he stops writing back to her. When he returns from the war, she and her family have moved away, and he is never able to find her again.
This is also not a book of regret, although clearly the narrator regrets in some way the loss of Ginny, and the loss of his own innocence when he went away to war. But this is a book of truth. Rylant doesn't sugarcoat the nature of war or the effect it has on those who must fight it, both on the battlefield and at home.