“Not a word about what you’re doing. This job will definitely involve a lot of lying. Are you ready for that?”
“Sure,” Andy said. “I understand why I’ll have to do it.” But he hated the idea.
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Andy Gledhill has spent months training as a paratrooper during World War II, only to be inducted into an elite secret force where his language skills are needed. Instead of becoming part of the invasion of Europe, he is to arrive there secretly and work with the resistance effort to undermine Hitler’s army from inside France. He is trained to become a spy and an assassin.
Though he begins cocky and confident, he soon discovers he is being asked to fill a role directly opposite to a lifetime of training in his small Utah town LDS Ward, where he has grown up as the son of Bishop (and Mayor) Gledhill and a French/American mother. Actions he must take sicken him, leaving him feeling unworthy and no longer the young man who once dreamed of marrying, raising a family, and taking over his father’s bank back in Delta.
Whisper Harris has been in love with Andy since they were children. She has been his girlfriend for years, but with him going away to war, she needs to know whether their relationship has a future. On his last leave home before beginning his most intense training and shipping out, they make promises to each other without going as far as a formal engagement.
Since he can’t tell her what he is really doing in the Army, he warns her that there may be long periods of time when he can’t write to her. When many long months pass without hearing from him, she wonders if he really cares about her. At long last, he sends a brief letter, freeing her from her promise. Reading the letter, she doesn’t know what to do. Andy’s younger brother takes on the role of protector and friend to Whisper, and it’s obvious he is in love with his adored older brother’s sweetheart.
Saboteur is a many-tiered story. Though the main plot line follows Andy, each member of the Gledhill family has a story. We also follow Whisper, many of the people he interacts with in France, and Tom Tanaka, a Japanese/American teenager who, with his family, has been relocated to the Japanese internment camp at nearby Topaz. Hughes explores a number of issues through these people.
Andy struggles with the necessity of killing a guard, a man who has done nothing to him, who hasn’t fired a shot, and doesn’t even know anything of Andy’s presence. He struggles, too, with his feelings for a beautiful, fiery, young resistance fighter. Andy’s sister, Adele, rebels against small town living and a father who is too busy to pay her much attention. Flip, Andy’s young brother, can’t seem to do anything right. He’s not good at sports, he’s small for his age, he’s in love with his brother’s girlfriend, and he’d like to be somebody or do something grand. His one big gesture lands his friend Tom in jail. Tom struggles with being a detainee and the injustice of being thought un-American because of his race. He wants to turn eighteen and enlist in the military to prove his loyalty.
Perhaps the greatest struggle is undertaken by Andy’s father. Ron Gledhill doesn’t even realize he has a problem. He’s a busy man, running the bank, serving as bishop, and being the town mayor. He likes these roles and is good at all of them. Unfortunately, they leave him little time for his family.
Portions of Saboteur will remind readers of Hughes’s Children of the Promise. A few characters seem to be changed little from characters in that series. Though Hughes, as usual, delivers a well-written, thought- provoking story, it is a little too politically correct. The characters and situations are judged by today’s standards rather than those of the wartime forties. Important issues that are introduced, but which are resolved too simplistically and far too quickly, are those dealing with Adele’s affair with her boyfriend and Ron’s discovery that he has neglected his family.
I found Flip, in many ways, the strongest character in the book as I watched him mature from naive child to a too-early maturity. Though an early adolescent boy in years, he seems to see the most clearly the multiple facets of the problems he faces. It’s easy to share his poignant pain when his actions thrust his friend in jail, jeopardizing Tom’s chances of being allowed to enlist, and again when he steps aside and watches his older brother claim his own dream.
Saboteur is a book I heartily recommend. The action is strong and realistic. It introduces questions of ethics that compel readers to examine their perceptions of moral right and wrong. Some may say it has a strong love story, and I would agree – but not in the romantic sense. Andy takes Whisper too much for granted and Whisper tends to see their relationship in terms of what’s in it for her. Flip is the one who knows something of genuine love.