Note: I received a digital copy of The Yanks Are Starving from the author for review consideration.
The first half of this book introduces all the characters and their actions during the first World War, while the second half talks about a time during the Great Depression when many veterans, starving and unemployed, created a group to camp out in Washington and lobby for the bonus they had been promised for their service. They called it the Bonus Army, and what happened with that army is truly unbelievable. I’m pretty up on my American history, at least through WWII, and I had never heard of the Bonus Army. But it really happened, and you can read all about it on Wikipedia.
The only reason I had to rate this book as “Good but Forgettable” is because there were so many characters, I could not keep track of who was who. In the first half of the book, the amount of viewpoint characters was overwhelming. However, toward the middle of the book, all their storylines started converging on a battlefield in WWI, and I started to enjoy the book much more. Plus, there were pictures in the center, showing all the characters who were real-life people! (That is one disadvantage of reading this on my Kindle–if I had had a paperback instead, I would have flipped to the pictures first thing and probably been much less confused.) So don’t let that deter you from this book! Despite my rating, I really enjoyed reading it.
In my mind, the second half of the book, which actually told the story of the Bonus Army, was by far the best part. All the characters from the first half of the book–General MacArthur, the soldier destined for glory, one way or another; Walter W. Waters, the stuttering but powerful leader of the Bonus Army; Hoover, the weak and downtrodden president; Anna, a former Mennonite who became a field nurse in the war; “Happy” Glassford, set up to fail; Ozzie Taylor, oboeist and member of the Harlem Hellfighters; and many more–converge on the same site and battle for their rights. This book is intricately researched, and you can see how much work Craney put into it. Almost every single character is a real-life person, or was based on a conglomerate of historical participants, and several of the things they say are direct, historical quotes. I love that in historical fiction. It makes me feel smart and entertained at the same time.
If you’re interested in historical fiction on a subject that hasn’t been done countless times (I’m looking at you, WWII), you will love this book. It’s well-researched, interesting, and even heart-wrenching at times. You just might want to bring your own character list to keep track of who is who.
Rating: Good but Forgettable