Learn more about CCRLS
Reading recommendations from Novelist
Online learning resources
Cover image for Missing in action
Missing in action
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, ©2010.
Physical Description:
228 pages ; 22 cm
While his father is missing in action in the Pacific during World War II, twelve-year-old Jay moves with his mother to small-town Utah, where he sees prejudice from both sides, as a part-Navajo himself and through an unlikely friendship with Japanese American Ken from the nearby internment camp.
Reading Level:
620 Lexile.

Ages 10-14.

Lexile: 620.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG+ 3.9 7.0 135337.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 4.5 14 Quiz: 48252.


Call Number

On Order



Dirty. Lazy. Good-for-nothing. Jay Thacker is used to hearing himself called names because his dad is half-Navajo. But he's hoping, now that he and his mom have moved to stay with his grandparents because of WWII, that things could be different. Delta is a tiny town in Utah, nothing like Salt Lake, where they used to live. And Jay's grandfather is an elder in the church, a beloved and well-respected man. Jay begins to make friends and even to make some money as he works the fields for his grandfather. There's just one problem: he works alongside a young man named Ken, who's from the camps in nearby Topaz. Which means Ken is a Jap. And Jay's dad, who's been fighting for the navy out in the Pacific, was recently declared Missing in Action.

An understated and moving story about an unlikely friendship from the author of the acclaimed SOLDIER BOYS, this is one of Dean Hughes's best novels to date.

Author Notes

Dean Hughes was born in 1943 in Utah. He earned a degree in English from Weber State University and a Masters in Creative Writing and a PhD in literature at the University of Washington, in Seattle. He taught English at Central Missouri State University for eight years.

Hughes left his teaching position to pursue a writing career full-time. Since then he has written over 80 books. He writes books for children, young adults and adults readers with subjects ranging from fiction to nonfiction to nonsense verse. He is the author of the Angel Park, Nutty, Lucky and Scrappers series. His most recent series is the Hearts of the Children.

In 1994 he won an AML Award for Young Adult Literature for his title The Trophy.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6-8-Hughes tackles a multitude of issues in this intriguing yet uneven World War II-era novel. Although Jay Thacker's part-Navajo heritage immediately marks him as "different" in his new town, his baseball skills and his grandfather's standing in the local Mormon community soften barriers in Delta, UT. The 12-year-old's newfound baseball buddies quickly reveal their prejudices against Native Americans, nicknaming him "Chief" and discussing their parents' views that Indians are lazy alcoholic thieves. Jay's own latent prejudices also surface when he learns that his grandfather has hired a young Japanese-American farmhand from the Topaz internment camp. Much to Jay's surprise, Ken wants to join the army once he turns 18 and has a gift for baseball, which leads to him becoming Jay's unofficial coach. Suspicion over Jay's friendship with Ken erupts at a teen social, leading to a runaway attempt by Jay. Although serious issues of Native American prejudice, family violence, Japanese-American internment, and homophobia are raised, the story ends too idealistically and neatly. Rather than focusing on one central theme, multiple situations and issues are juggled to a less-than-satisfactory end. Jay's mixed feelings toward his own ethnic heritage and his initial misconceptions about Japanese Americans are believable and realistic. Recommended where Hughes's novels are popular and as an additional purchase for multicultural collections.-Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Set in Utah during WWII, Hughes's (Search and Destroy) emotionally honest coming-of-age story follows the conflicted thoughts of 12-year-old Jay, who moves from Salt Lake City to a small town and contends with the casual racism prevalent among his new friends ("lazy Indian" stereotypes are common, and the boys nickname Jay "Chief" after learning his father is half Navajo). Jay's abusive father has been missing for months after his ship was torpedoed in the Pacific, and introspective, sensitive Jay awaits his improbable return with the hope that everything will improve once his family is reunited. When Jay's grandfather gives him a farm job alongside 17-year-old Ken, a fun-loving Japanese-American from California who has been relocated with his family to an internment camp, they become friends, and Jay has to confront his own prejudices (before meeting Ken, his knowledge of Japanese people was limited to unsympathetic portrayals in the movies and war posters of "ugly little yellow guys with glasses"). Hughes pens a candid and dynamic tale that illuminates the complexities of discrimination and the power of friendship. Ages 10-14. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

During World War II, Jay moves with his mother from Salt Lake City to rural Delta, Utah. As Jay makes new friends and hones his baseball skills, he confronts the prejudice against his Navajo heritage while struggling to overcome his own toward Japanese Americans. All the while, he wrestles with his complicated feelings about his missing-in-action father. Familiar characters and themes populate this solid historical novel. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

Jay's dad has been declared Missing in Action in the Pacific during World War II, so he and his mom have moved from Salt Lake City to small-town Utah, where his mother's family lives. Life there is unsettling, especially when his mother's men friends appear. Jay finds new buddy Gordy's derogatory references to his partial Navajo heritage upsetting but stays silent so he can play baseball. His grandfather's status as an elder of the Mormon church helps, but it isn't until he works on the farm with Ken, a release worker from a Japanese internment camp, that Jay begins to see the bigger picture of what matters and what doesn't. Many forms of prejudice appear in the narrative, with thoughtlessness and injustice intertwined. Navajo spiritual elements combine with Jay's Mormon faith in a delicate balancing act. Hughes manages to pull it all together for an ending that is touching and somewhat realistic. The plot serves the theme well, as events in Jay's life are illustrated by multiple instances of bias. Subtle and engaging. (Historical fiction. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

After his father enlisted during World War II, Jay moved with his mother to her small Utah hometown. After Dad goes missing in action, Jay holds out hope for his return and fantasizes that he must have been a war hero. This wishful thinking helps to prop Jay up against taunting from local boys, who seize on anything or anyone different, such as Jay's Navajo background or the nearby Topaz internment camp, full of guys who want to get back to California to help the Japs from Japan drop bombs on us. When Jay befriends Ken, a Topaz resident doing farm work for his grandfather, he begins to reevaluate destructive stereotypes and, more importantly, face some harsh family truths. Dad is probably not returning, and he was an abusive husband and father. His grief and shame and confusion over his friendship with unconventional enemy Ken push Jay to the brink, prompting him to run away. Jay's pain and eventual resolution will touch readers in this sure-to-be-popular work of historical fiction.--O'Malley, Anne Copyright 2010 Booklist