Review: Where Have All the Flowers Gone

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: The Diary of Molly MacKenzie Flaherty, Boston, Massachusetts, 1968 (Dear America)Where Have All the Flowers Gone
by Ellen Emerson White

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where Have All the Flowers Gone (Vietnam) / 0-439-14889-8

The Dear America series prides itself on providing windows into extraordinary historical periods in American history through the eyes of ordinary young men and women, for the entertainment and education of young adults and parents alike. "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" looks at the Vietnam war, through the eyes of Molly, a young woman who struggles with the ideological diatribe on either side of the issue and merely longs for her dear brother to come home again, safe and sound.

Handling this volatile and emotionally difficult time period with grace and even-handedness, the author carefully cultivates a curious spirit in fictional diarist Molly. Molly listens carefully to the dialogue on both sides of the issue, hears the "Red Menace" jingoism of her teachers and the tales of American atrocities from the 'hippies' downtown, and wonders what the truth is, under all the emotion and turmoil surrounding the war. She watches the war on television and fears for her brother as his letters to home mention his friends less and less frequently, and she knows that this is because his friends are, over time, dying one by one. In order to feel useful, Molly volunteers her time at a local hospital for wounded soldiers, and she tries her best to cheer the men - some younger than herself - who have lost their legs, their hands, or their eyes in this bloody war. Though she feels better helping the wounded, she fears daily that the injuries she tends may one day be inflicted on her dear older brother. And his heart-rending letters describing the terrible death of his friends around him break her heart. In the end, Molly decides that she does not have to agree with the war or the politicians to feel tremendous sympathy for her brother and the wounded she tends at the hospital.

Because this is a book for children, the worst of the American atrocities are not dealt with here. The massacre at My Lai is not mentioned, and I think it is in this book's detriment that very little time is spent on the experience of the Vietnamese population, rather than focusing exclusively on the experience of the American soldiers. However, though I felt that the book would have been even better with the inclusion of this perspective, I still felt that a very even-handed approach was adhered to in describing this difficult period of America history that is so often painted with such a broad brush, with no room for subtlety. When Molly concludes that the war is bad but that many of the veterans are good people caught in a bad situation, we can conclude that a reasonable conclusion has been reached.

As an aside, although not directly related to Vietnam, per se, I was extremely pleased with Molly's occasional notes of blossoming feminism through the novel, such as when Molly notes that one of her uncles recommended she abandon the idea of veterinary school and instead just work at a shelter or a pet store. She wryly notes that had her name been 'Mark' instead of 'Molly', the uncle would not have been so adamant that medical school was no place for her. For parents, there are several graphic letters describing the death of Patrick's fellow soldiers and Molly notes the painful wounds she sees in the veteran's hospital, all of which may be unsettling for very young children.

~ Ana Mardoll

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