Background: Sara Lewis Holmes is one of my blog friends. I met her at the first Kidlitosphere Conference. I reviewed her previous book, Letters from Rapunzel. I follow her blog. When I saw her newest book in the Scholastic catalog, I requested it because I had enjoyed her first book, and because I wanted to see what she had come up with this time. I'll confess that knowing Sara did affect my perception of the book. I know that she has personal experience living in a military family, and I think that this comes across in the book. But I'm pretty sure that I would have liked it anyway.
Review: Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes is a middle grade novel set on a (fictional) North Carolina air force base. The primary viewpoint alternates between Bo, the son of the base commander, and Bo's cousin Gari, sent to live with her uncle while her mother is deployed to Iraq. Bo is a boy who has trouble behaving, struggling especially with the pressure of being the commander's son. Gari is prickly and defensive, worried to distraction about the only parent she's ever known. The two cousins find a haven in their sixth grade classroom (room 208), however, and an inspiration in their teacher, Miss Loupe. Eventually, they learn to question themselves, and find ways to take positive action in the world.
Miss Loupe is a treasure, a young, energetic teacher who uses unconventional methods to engage her students. She is particularly fond of improv, using improv's classic "Yes, and..." structure to teach everything from fractions to friendship. She also motivates the students by talking openly about her brother Mark, working in a combat unit in Afghanistan. She is real and vulnerable.
Operation Yes is filled with other three-dimensional characters, too. The kids are all delightfully imperfect, especially Bo. In truth, I didn't care much for Gari, but I liked Bo more than enough to make up for that. While the kids take center stage, they are surrounded by caring adults, each with their own strengths and frailties. In addition to Miss Loupe, the librarian, the lunch lady, the principal, the commander, and another teacher all stand out. I think that's nice to see. These are the people who populate the worlds of elementary school kids every day. It's nice to see them get their due in Operation Yes.
Another thing that I like about Operation Yes is that, even as it has an ultimately patriotic theme, Holmes doesn't sugarcoat things. Yes, it's hard being in a military family, having parents stationed away, and having to move around all the time. Yes, kids do worry about their parents getting hurt, and they don't always behave well as a result. Yes, sometimes soldiers do get injured or even killed. These are realities, and they are treated as such (though in an appropriate manner for the audience).
The writing style in Operation Yes might take a bit of getting used to for some. There are quite a few shifts in point of view. But I think that this adds a lot to the depth of the story. One notable example is Chapter 20. The perspective moves from person to person, a paragraph or two for each, and then back again, building tension all the while, right up to the powerful last paragraph. It's a cinematic approach, fitting for a book in which drama plays a major role.
Here are a few of my favorite passages:
"In the middle of the evaluation, the principal, Mrs. Heard, came into Room 208. She was encased in an olive-green suit, which Trey instantly began to draw, adding tank treads and a firing turret." (Page 21)
"Bo left Room 208, but he felt the possibilities bouncing around his brain, like golf balls launched off chunks of concrete." (Page 36)
"Could Tandi carry that off without her? She doubted it. Tandi thought you told people what to do, like vote for you, and they did it. But it was harder than that. You had to see something in your head before you could make it happen. It didn't even matter if what you saw or what you made didn't last, like the glowy lights or the paper stars; it was how people thought about it, and you, afterward that counted." (Page 54, Gari, thinking about her best friend's campaign for class president)
"But the point is that nothing is ordinary if you examine it closely. And the things that make someone imperfect are also the things that make them who they are. Thats' one thing I learned at drama school: how to use small things to make an audience see me in a new way." (Miss Loupe, Page 60)
Operation Yes has heart and humor. As Sarah pointed out at The Reading Zone, it is that rare book that will appeal equally to middle grade boys and girls. I think it would make an excellent classroom read-aloud. (There's even a food fight scene - sure to be a crowd-pleaser). Operation Yes is a book that informs, inspires, and entertains, in equal measure. Recommended!
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Publication Date: September 1, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: The Old Coot, Lesa's Book Critiques, The Reading Zone, Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup, Shelf Elf. And, from Everyday Learning, some perspective on the author's background as it ties to the books.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.