B for Buster
(Delacorte Books for Young Readers, June 8, 2004)
Nicknamed after his hometown of Kakabeka, Canada, Kak dreams of flying with the Allied bombers in World War II. So at 16, underage and desperate to escape his abusive parents, he enlists in the Canadian Air Force. Soon he is trained as a wireless operator and sent to a squadron in England, where he’s unabashedly gung ho about flying his first op. He thinks the night ops over Germany will be like the heroic missions of his favorite comic-book heroes. Good will vanquish evil. But his first time out, in a plane called B for Buster, reveals the ops for what they really are—a harrowing ordeal.The bombing raids bring searchlights . . . artillery from below . . . and night fighters above hunting to take the bombers down. One hit, Kak knows, and B for Buster, along with him and his six crewmates, could be destroyed.Kak is terrified.He can’t confide his feelings to his crew, since he’s already worried that they’ll find out his age. Besides, none of them seem afraid. Only in Bert, the slovenly caretaker of the homing pigeons that go on every op, does Kak find an unlikely friend. Bert seems to understand what the other men don’t talk about—the shame, the sense of duty, and the paralyzing fear. As Kak seeks out Bert’s company, he somehow finds the strength to face his own uncertain future.