Caleb is a black teenager in rural Georgia in the midst of World War II in this compelling coming-of-age novel. As the title of David L. Dudley’s novel suggests, Caleb is fighting several battles: the struggle within himself about what it means to be a good person, the fight for civil rights and a conflict with his father about becoming his own man.
As the story opens, Caleb and his friends are on the eve of being baptized in the river. Still, they sneak out the night before to drink moonshine. “Drinkin’ ” and “smokin’ ” are sins, or so they’ve been told. But won’t getting baptized wash them away? Caleb isn’t sure, and he also doesn’t expect to feel anything—except being wet. When he experiences something inexplicable and deeply religious, his entire world is rocked.
Caleb emerges from his experience unsure of what he believes in or who he is. When he ends up defying his father to work as a dishwasher in the new restaurant in town, he begins to take pride in doing something on his own. But he’s less sure what to think when a German POW from the local camp begins working there too. Can he forge a friendship with a German—and a white one at that—especially when his beloved brother is off fighting for his country?
Caleb’s Wars is an insightful look at a community beset by political and racial conflict. It’s a time and place most teens aren’t familiar with, and they will share Caleb’s growing frustration with the racial discrimination he faces. They’ll also cheer at the efforts he makes to stand up for himself—and his family. Caleb’s Wars is certainly an appropriate title for this engaging novel, but by the end, you could easily imagine author Dudley calling his story “Caleb’s Courage.”