Take one part card lover, one part know-it-all, and add in die-hard army enthusiasm, and you have Jamie. Our narrator and leading lady, she's is one tough cookie. She might be a twelve-year-old girl on an army base, but that doesn't stop her from telling the soldiers how it is. Cussing, going to the rec center, playing cards—you name it, and Jamie doesn't give two hoots if people say those are for boys. She'll do whatever she likes and nobody—we mean nobody—is going to stop her.
Perhaps the reason she's tough as nails is that she's grown up as an army brat. She's always around soldiers and feels very comfortable with the idea of war—dismembered bodies and blowing stuff up are her forte. She loves war, and can't wait until she can sign up for it herself. In fact, some of her happiest memories are playing war with her bro, TJ. Listen to how she describes it:
In a way, it's like we'd been soldiers together. I wondered if he still remembered how that felt. One thing I knew for sure when I saw him after basic training was that he'd forget the old days soon enough, if he hadn't already. He was headed for a real combat zone. (12.7)
We can almost hear her "yippee" in the background—Jamie is psyched about the possibility of her brother going off to war. It's through strategizing army plans and playing soldiers that Jamie felt closest to her brother; as he prepares for actual combat, it's like their childhood dreams are coming true.
It's easy to judge Jamie for being a little gun-happy, but as the kid of a colonel, she's been around war all her life. She's heard stories about her dad risking his own neck to save his buddies; these are the legends she's grown up with. Because of this, war is all about guts and glory to her—that is, until her brother ships out.
At first, she's really excited. The idea of TJ getting to be part of a real war thrills her. None of this make-believe stuff—Jamie wants the real deal. Then, though, she gets a little bored. Why does TJ keep sending photos of huts and people when he could show her the blood and death that surrounds him? Okay, okay, that's a grim way of putting it—but it's totally how Jamie feels. She confesses:
I was starting to get bored. Since I didn't know any of the people, their pictures didn't mean anything to me. (7.19)
It's only when TJ starts sending photos of guys with amputated legs and bandages that Jamie starts to think about what actually happens at war—not the glory part, but instead everything leading up to that: the blood, injuries, deaths, pain, and torment the guys are going through in the jungle over there. You know, the part we don't talk about much.
Jamie has mixed feelings about this big revelation. On the one hand, she's seeing things a little more realistically (which is good). Hold the blood, please; she no longer wants to see all the gross details of war. Now she just wants TJ home, and we're with her on that. Then there's this other side to her that feels guilty over her new feelings. Why? She thinks she should be pro-war and pro-army since she's from an army family.
When she starts questioning the war, she's no longer sure of who she is. Cue the identity crisis. Listen to her tell it: "And, when you got right down to it, if I lost all those things, I had practically lost my own self. Which is a sad and depressing thought to have" (11.39). Ouch. All she's known her entire life is that war is good—once she loses this anchor, Jamie questions reality. She doesn't know how to be herself without promoting fighting or the army in some way.
It's a tough lesson for Jamie to learn, but eventually she has to come to terms with the fact that war isn't always good and isn't always necessary. That sounds like a no brainer to us—since people die in war, it's a lose-lose even when your side wins. And then there's the Vietnam War, which many (the Colonel included) think was a completely unnecessary war all together. Jamie wrestles with these questions, but never really settles on an answer. Or if she does, it's a more complex one.
So that brings us to the million-dollar question: What does Jamie feel about war by the end of the book? Is she cool with it? Is it just the Vietnam War she's against, or all war? Over to you, Shmoopers.