Study Guide

Shooting the Moon Introduction

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Shooting the Moon Introduction

Let's play free word association. We say the Sixties, and you say…

  • Peace
  • Love
  • Tie-Dye
  • Volkswagen Beetles
  • War
  • Death
  • Tragedy

Uh, whoa. That turned ugly pretty quickly.

We guess war will do that to a country.

"Nam." This tiny word carries tremendous weight. The Vietnam War can incite a heap of feelings, including sorrow, regret, anger, revulsion, embarrassment, betrayal, and confusion. Many would rather forget it altogether, particularly those who think of this war as one of—if not the—most disastrous period in American history.

It might seem like the free-love 60s and the war 60s are two different periods, but in reality, one led to the other. It was only in response to the war that people went all tie-dye and passed out friendship bracelets like there was no tomorrow. The war was in full swing, and a whole lot of people weren't behind it.

Vietnam was the first major military loss for the U.S., and not simply because the U.S. failed to defeat communism, its most despised enemy during the Cold War. The Vietnam War, which lasted approximately fifteen years (far longer than any other war fought by the U.S.), was a political, economic, and military nightmare pretty much from start to finish.

In Shooting the Moon, Jamie and her family are stuck right in the middle of this mess. As a military man, the Colonel (a.k.a. her dad) is forced to make decisions about who should go to war, even though he's not that fussed on Nam in the first place. Frances O'Roark Dowell's 2009 book offers up an intimate perspective on the 1960s from people living through it.

And guess what? It turns out the decade was more than a bunch of hippies running around with rainbow peace signs.

What is Shooting the Moon About and Why Should I Care?

You might love baseball and apple pie more than anyone else on the planet, but sooner or later, you'll disagree with something or other that happens in the good ol' USA. We're all for getting decked out in team gear when the Super Bowl comes on, but every once and a while, the government does something that makes us scratch our heads.

Regardless of where you land politically, there are plenty of examples. In terms of U.S. history, though, The Vietnam War is a biggie. Loads of red, white, and blue-wearing Americans weren't exactly on board with the war. Many people organized sit-ins and protests in efforts to stop the war, and people rallied in the streets.

Despite resistance on the home front, nearly sixty thousand Americans died during Nam, and thousands more suffered from the physical and psychological repercussions of the brutal warfare in the jungles of Vietnam. As the war spiraled out of control, the American people came to distrust their leaders and question their nation's essential values.

Shooting the Moon asks readers to think about how they would handle a war they neither agree with nor like. It asks some tough questions about when to follow orders and when to resist. For Jamie and her family, life is all about the army—but when they are faced with a war they can't get behind, their patriotism is questioned. Whether you're a history buff who loves studying wars, or a pacifist who has no interest in warfare whatsoever, this book asks you to consider whether you can still love America while being against her decisions.

Shooting the Moon Resources


Visit Frances O'Roark Dowell
The author's website is jam-packed with information on her books, workshops, podcasts, and school visits.

Articles and Interviews

Army Brat
In this interview, the author talks about how her husband encouraged her to write about her own experiences as an army brat.

Anti-War Propaganda
What does the author say to people who call her book that? Find out in this interview.

Survival Skills
The author credits her army brat days as giving her the survival skills she needed to become a writer.


Making Up Stories
Looking for a little writing guidance? Listen to the author explain her writing process in this video interview.

Now Enlisting
Watch one library's trailer for the book, which starts with TJ enlisting. (Libraries rule.)


Lights, Camera, Action
We like to think this is what Jamie's moon pictures would look like.

POW Camp
This picture from the Vietnam War shows what it was like to live in a POW camp like TJ did.

Combat Ready
Jamie might think she's combat ready, but this is what war actually looks like.

Calling All Medics
TJ was expected to do grueling work as a medic, and this is what it would actually look like.

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