How do you explain a century of warfare to young adults in fewer than 300 pages without losing their interest? First-time author Jennifer Gold has the answer in Soldier Doll: tell them a story that stars a 12-to 18-year old whose life is hijacked by conflict.
There are two main characters in Soldier Doll. The first is 15-year-old Elizabeth Bryant, who suffers the indignity of moving from Vancouver to Toronto in 2007. Her normal teenage life, riven with angst and embarrassment, is further complicated by the fact that her father will shortly leave to serve in Afghanistan. The second main character is an antique doll Elizabeth finds at a street sale; she becomes fascinated with unearthing its story.
The book alternates between Elizabeth’s struggles and those of the doll’s previous owners, who lived, respectively, during the First World War, the Second World War, the Vietnam War, and the conflict in Afghanistan. In each era, the doll finds itself in the company of someone needing comfort in a chaotic time. However, the doll does not offer protection to its owners, all of whom lose their lives or experience the loss of a loved one. It gradually becomes clear that the doll, having endured, represents survivors of war.
While Elizabeth is a well-drawn character, her story is almost overshadowed by the doll’s. Still, Elizabeth ties the stories together, helping the reader understand that life goes on even in the face of adversity and loss. Soldier Doll is an excellent book that will draw young readers into stories of the past without even noticing they’re learning about history.