• The Good: Fictionalized narration of a young WWII Navajo code talker’s life
  • The Bad: Simple story with limited details
  • The Literary: Historical fiction with a focus on a personal story

Growing up in a boarding school, Ned Begay is told to forget his worthless Indian heritage and language, but just a few years later World War II breaks out, and the sixteen-year-old boy joins the critical contingent of marines who become code talkers, using the Navajo language to serve and protect.

Ned Begay is a fictional character, but his inspiring story is based on the true story of the Navajo code talkers who endured some of the heaviest fighting of the war, saving countless American lives. This story honors the culture and language of the Navajo men whose contributions remained classified for more than twenty years.

Code Talker is a middle-school-age novel, and while it is immensely approachable and readable, it does tell many truths. The frame story is Ned narrating his life to us, the readers and his grandchildren, and this softens the horror of war. Ned tells of the battles and years quite succinctly, so the details are often spared, and those that aren’t don’t linger.

I’m immensely appreciative that this story begins with the Carlisle Indian school, which serves to juxtapose the general perception of natives at that time in our country, which was to “kill the Indian, save the child,” against Native usefulness in the war. Those federally funded schools continued well into the 1960s and 1970s, assimilating Native Americans into mainstream American culture by militarizing their schedules, converting them to Christianity, and preventing them from learning or practicing indigenous culture and custom.

With all the difficult topics here, this is quite a hopeful book. Even at times humorous. At boarding school, Ned’s assigned last name is Begay, which in Navajo means “son of”, because the white teacher mistook this for his last name. In boot camp, Ned and his buddies prank their favorite teacher, and in the war, Ned makes a game of not taking his malaria pills, until he’s caught of course.

I’m not an expert in WWII, but the tales of island hopping and trudging through swamps seem accurate. And I really enjoy the tale of the two flag raisings on Mt. Suribachi (Iwo Jima) for the famous photograph.

Highly recommended as an easy read of an important part of American history!