The Unwilling was the first book that I have read by author, John Hart. It certainly will not be my last. I really enjoyed how John Hart pulled me right into this story. Being at the end of high school and at the beginning of my college experience when the Vietnam War took place, I found that I was easily able to relate to some of the traumas that occurred because of the war. All the boys that I grew up with, including my own brother, were fearful of drawing a low number for the draft. Perhaps the most distinguishing aspect of the Vietnam war was how haunted these boys were who served in this war when they came back home. So many boys had such a hard time fitting into society again when they returned home. It was not unusual to hear how nightmares invaded their sleep and made everyday life almost unbearable. I was not very familiar with the My Lai Massacre but I did do a little research and was amazed about the bravery but also the cover-up. John Hart did an amazing job weaving the effects of the Vietnam War into the lives of family and friends and how it influenced the use of drugs and spurred crime.
The French family lived in a town in the South during the 1970's. Detective William French and Gabrielle French had three boys. The oldest two, Robert and Jason, were twins and Gibby was the youngest. Robert had been selected in the draft and was killed in the Vietnam War. He was Gabrielle's favorite son. The night she found out that Robert had died she said something that no parent should ever utter out loud nor think. Loud enough to be heard by others she said, "It should have been Jason! It should have been him!" Jason heard his mother's words and enlisted a day or two later. Robert and Jason's personalities were polar opposite of one another but it was hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that a mother could ever wish that one child died instead of another. As a result of Robert's death, Gibby became the target of his mother's demands to keep him safe. He was over protected and forbidden to do sports or involve himself with girls. Gibby went along with his mother's demands because he did not want to hurt her.
When Jason French returned home from the Vietnam War, his family learned that he had received a dishonorable discharge and came back home not only disgraced but addicted to drugs. Jason was picked up by the police and charged with the possession and use of heroin. He returned home a different person, shameful, unyielding and tougher. Jason's defense trial for his heroin possession was over before it began. He was charged and served twenty seven months in Lanesworth State Prison Farm, one of the state's most feared prisons. The first thing Jason wanted to do when he was released from prison was reconnect with his brother, Gibby. It had been five years since Gibby had seen Jason. Gibby and his best friend Chance were at the Quarry for senior cut day when Jason found him. Jason promised to spend a meaningful day with Gibby so the two could get to know one another again. Jason promised to show Gibby a day he would not soon forget. The next day, Gibby arrived at the address Jason had provided. Jason and Gibby shared a good meal at a diner owned by one his buddy's parents from the war. Then they took off to pick up a pair of ladies, Tyra and Sara. Jason was determined to show Gibby a good time and reconnect with the only family he had left. After a really good day, Jason decided to drive them home in Gibby's car. Tyra sat up front with Jason and Gibby was in the back with Sara. Tyra was taunting Jason to go faster. Suddenly, there was a bus ahead of them. Jason's whole being changed when he discovered that it was a Lanesworth prison transfer bus. His facial expression changed drastically and Gibby saw the fear in him. Tyra decided to have some fun. She taunted the inmates with sexual gestures. The more Jason told her to stop the more she revealed of herself. A few days later Tyra was discovered dead and mutilated in a most gruesome way. All proof pointed to Jason for committing this horrific crime. Jason was charged and sent back to Lanesworth. The big question was why was he sent back to Lanesworth before his trial.
Gibby was determined to prove that Jason did not kill Tyra. Since no one else was doing anything to prove that Jason did not do it, Gibby took matters into his own hands and became involved with very questionable people to try and find answers. While Gibby was doing this, Sara was abducted. This placed suspicion on Gibby. Gibby had to avoid the police but continue to learn about his brother so he could prove his innocence.
The Unwilling was a very well written book and the characters were very believable. I was at the edge of my seat for parts and if I could have closed for my eyes for other parts I would have. It was also endearing at parts especially Gibby's and Becky's relationship and Gibby's and Chance's friendship. It was hard to believe that a mother's words could have been the catalyst for changing a child's life so much. That part really bothered me. I can't ever imagine loving one child more that another and to wish one child died instead of another. Some of the descriptions of some of the scenes were graphic but they fit with the story. I highly recommend The Unwilling by John Hart.
I received a complimentary copy of The Unwilling from Bookish First, St. Martin's Press, and John Hart. All opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.