This review originally appeared on WorldOfJoel.com
I absolutely adore the concept of American War by Omar El Akkad. Not that I'm wishing for a second American civil war, but the concept of the book astounds me in how real it feels. It's 2074 and the US decides that it will end the use of oil, making it illegal to use. In this move, a good portion of the South decides to secede leading to yet another civil war.
Although I don't know if banning the use of oil would cause us to go into a civil war, its a concept that's easy to buy into right away. The novel is broken into two different types of chapters. The first is about the life of Sarat Chestnut born in a Louisana that has been devastated by global warming (rising sea levels) and is forced to flee her childhood home pretty early on. The second type of chapter is historical articles that describe the major events of the second civil war. These come in the form of journal entries, official government reports, and interviews.
Really though this is a book about Sarat and her journey. There's a point in this book where Sarat changes from a normal young girl to something very different and it threw me for a loop. She becomes larger than life, almost a hero of sorts rather than the small story that the book begins with. And for that, I think the book misses an opportunity to be truly extraordinary. I loved the smaller stories, the families struggle during this insane civil war. When Sarat makes a big change about halfway through it didn't feel nearly as genuine or essential.
It's not that American War becomes a bad novel, just different. What I fell in love within the first half turns into a more straightforward, less impactful war novel. There are some touching moments towards the end that brought me back but I have to say I ended American War more conflicted that I was in love with the book. It's a great novel, and I hope a ton of people read it, but it just missed being one of my favorite books of the year.
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