Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers is a young adult novel for ages 9-12 or ages 12 and older depending upon maturity.  It touches upon the role and racism encountered by young African-American draftees and volunteers in the Vietnam War.  The coming-of-age novel was banned by certain school districts for its use of profanity, violence, sexual language, and vulgarity, and continually challenged by parents and teachers for the last decade.  Myers pulls no punches in this young adult novel, painting a picture of war as teens drafted in the 1960s would have experienced it and been impacted by it.

Harlem, New York’s Richie Perry volunteers to join the army at age 17 after he realizes its the best option to provide for his alcoholic mother and younger brother and that college is a dream that is too far out of reach since his father abandoned them.  He joins Alpha Company once in Vietnam and meets a cast of characters from a soldier who preaches faith to Peewee who acts as tough as he does on the Chicago streets and sees racism in every comment.

“Hot.  Muggy.  Bright, Muggy.  That was the airport at Tan Son Nhut.  We deplaned, followed Lieutenant Wilson across the field into an area in front of some Quonset huts, and started forming ranks.  It took a while.  The sergeant with the clipboard came along and tried to encourage us as best he could.

‘You faggots can’t even line up straight, how you gonna fight?’ he shouted.” (page 7)

Perry thinks a lot about what to write to his mother and his brother, Kenny, and he details every moment of his time in Vietnam as if he’s keeping a journal.  His relationship with Peewee continues to grow even though their outlooks on getting back to the World differ and their reactions to tragic events are opposite.  Death touches these men in many ways, but mostly they try to forget despite the visions that flit in front of their minds out in the field as they fight the Viet Cong.

“‘How about people in the hamlet?’ Brew asked.

‘We got to show them that we can be peaceful if they peaceful with us, or we can mess them up,’ Sergeant Simpson said.

‘Pacify them to death!’ Peewee said.”  (page 120)

Fallen Angels tackles very adult themes, but from the point of view of young teenagers thrown into a war they do not understand, are unable to describe to their loved ones, and have a hard time dealing with on a day-to-day basis.  How do you define courage? Can killing the enemy and seeing fellow soldiers die be forgotten and should they?  From the spider holes used by the Viet Cong in their guerrilla warfare against the Americans to the miscommunications and changed orders for each unit, Fallen Angels provides an inside look at this confusing war, and sheds light on how inexperienced soldiers react when facing death and superiors they do not understand.  Walter Dean Myers tackles not only morality, but also racism, courage, forgiveness, and finding oneself amidst terrifying circumstances.  The anniversary edition includes information about the author and some book club discussion questions with answers from the author.

About the Author:

Walter Dean Myers is a writer of children’s and young adult literature. Walter Dean Myers was born in West Virginia in 1937 but spent most of his childhood and young adult life in Harlem. He was raised by foster parents and remembers a happy but tumultuous life while going through his own teen years. Suffering with a speech impediment, he cultivated a habit of writing poetry and short stories and acquired an early love of reading.

This is my 53rd book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 10th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.


  1. This sounds really good and the perfect Vietnam book for me, definitely putting it on my wish list.

  2. I’m amazed that people would want to ban a book like this – what are they expecting in a war story, sweetness and light? I would rather a young adult read an account of what war is like than a glamorized version. Great review!

    • It’s funny you should mention that because a couple of the characters talk about how they pretend they are the hero in the movie of the Vietnam War; I guess it helps them cope and they explain why certain roles are better than others in terms of survival.

      I think providing children with the harsh realities of the world, rather than coddling them too long, will do them a world of good once they are expected to enter the world and become responsible adults. I think these stories should reflect the accuracy of history so that it is not repeated.

  3. Good morning,

    What an honor to see Walter Dean Myers here on your blog. He is a great African American author. Last year I enjoyed participating in a Young Adult challenge. I had to read thirteen books. I chose The Dream Bearer by Walter Dean Myer. The book is great. I look forward to reading more of his books. Thanks for hostessing his visit. If it’s wrong to have my link here, please just remove it. I’m just really excited.


  4. Myers is sort of reminiscent of Jacqueline Woodson for me in that he doesn’t hesitate to tackle all sorts of subjects usually avoided. And he doesn’t seem to pretty them up either! I haven’t read this one, but it sounds really good!

  5. With the content you mentioned, I’m thinking it’s more for 12 and up, but you’re right, it depends on the child’s maturity. I want to borrow this one to read for the challenge (like my not-so-subtle hint?). 😉