Phantoms in the Snow
Kathleen Benner Duble
After four years of research and a lifetime of interest in World War II, I thought I’d heard it all. But that’s the great part about this period of history: you will never hear it all. This war consumed the entire world and required creative means to fight battles and resist oppression. One such creative move was to train soldiers to fight on skis so they would be prepared to face the enemy in the Alps.
Wait–soldiers on skis? No, I certainly hadn’t heard it all.
Phantoms opens with the death of fifteen-year-old Noah Garrett’s parents in early 1944. Noah is a quiet Texas farm boy with a strict religious upbringing that included a pacifist stance. With no other family or anyone in his community able to take him in, Noah is sent to live with his mother’s brother, James Shelley, at Camp Hale in Colorado. Shelley is an Army officer, and his unit trains in the Rocky Mountains, learning to fight a war on skis. Noah has never skied in his life, but eventually finds himself loving the mountains and the sporting aspects of skiing and mountaineering. He makes friends with other young men in his unit–another first for a boy whose life revolved around his farm and his parents. Throughout the book, though, he struggles to reconcile his parents’ teaching that war is always wrong and the life he has been thrown into, and learns there are no easy answers to those questions.
Aside from learning yet another World War II tidbit, the book was enjoyable because of the depth of the characters. Each boy or man in Noah’s unit is an individual with his own thoughts and feelings about the war. Each one also goes through their own transformation as a result of the war, though Noah’s is probably the most profound. His transformation happens gradually, with a lot of back and forth as he wrestles with his place in the war, and it’s satisfying to the reader to watch him go through that. The descriptions of the mountains and the cold, especially as seen through a character who had only known a warm climate, are very effective and make the training scenes come to life.
Stay tuned for an interview Wednesday with Kathleen Benner Duble and a contest to win a signed copy of the book on Friday!