Cover of Torn. Machine gun with blue and orange background

About the Book

Title: Torn
Published: 2013

Cover Story:Bullshit!
Drinking Buddy:
Who Can Tell?
MPAA Rating:
PG (cartoonish violence, crude humor)
Talky Talk:
Maybe In Twenty Years
Anti-Bonus Factors:
Adorable Scamp, Ghosts of War
Bromance Status:
That Guy Who Flunked out of Junior ROTC and Still Tells Combat Stories

Cover Story: Bullshit!

“An American Soldier. A British Medic. Afghanistan. Can Their Love Survive a War?”

Yeah. Except there is no love. They almost kiss on page 226, but think better of it. There’s a little smolder, but they’re too busy fighting the actual war to do anything about it. Utter manipulation on the part of the cover designer.

The Deal:

Nineteen-year-old Ellie is a medic in the British Army. She’s sent to the ass end of Afghanistan, part of a team looking to root out terrorists. She has a hard time fitting in, being the newbie. Her corporal seems to have it in for her. Her unit is under fire nearly every day.  A group of heavily-armed children is attacking any adults, be they Coalition, Taliban, or Afghan security. And she keeps running into a strange young girl, that everyone knows, but no one is willing to talk about.

When I first started reading this, I assumed it was a personal account of the current war. And it read like nonfiction…at first. The guys trick her into using a shower with wide visibility. She has to put up with the jibes of the veterans. She’s scared.

And then, when one of her fellow soldiers steps on and arms an IED, she heroically pushes him off and leaves a pile of rocks in his place, delaying the explosion long enough that they can both be awkwardly blasted off their feet (without serious injury) and into each other’s arms.

This is a war that is going on right now. British and US forces are still dying over there, but apparently Massey decided the war needed romance and fucking ghosts.

Drinking Buddy: Who Can Tell?

Two pints of beer cheersing

Ellie’s father was a mechanic and she has a younger brother who’s a soccer fan. Her ex boyfriend gave her a bad tattoo. And…that’s all the background we have on Ellie. No real explanation of why she signed up, or how she became a medic, or her feelings on the war. It’s not that I don’t like her, it’s that I don’t know her.

MPAA Rating: PG (cartoonish violence, crude humor)

When you’re writing about a war you haven’t experienced first hand, there is no such thing as too much research. When someone who was there reads your book, they have to be able to say ‘Yes, it was exactly like that. The author really did their homework.’ You’d need to interview dozens of soldiers in various roles, just to make sure you don’t trivialize their experiences, their sacrifice, their losses.

Massey lists playing Call of Duty as part of his research. I’m not kidding. Maybe he did interview real life soldiers, but he certainly didn’t thank them in the acknowledgements.

If this was some kind of fictional war of the near future, or some black ops thing that never really happened, I’d cut him some slack. Unfortunately, this reads like a bad Hollywood movie. No, it reads like a good Hollywood movie. And war isn’t a movie.

Talky Talk: Maybe In Twenty Years

This war is not over, but you sure as hell can’t tell that from the book. There’s no mention of why Ellie is in Afghanistan, or even what year it’s supposed to be (other than the Iraq War had started). Massey creates generals, politicians and commanders out of whole cloth.

But what really chaps my arse is the glaring errors I noticed, and I’ve never been in the military. For instance, bayonets are no longer used in combat.

A private does not argue with sergeants and lieutenants. US Marines do not serve in the Navy SEALS.

There were other things that bothered me, but I can’t call them errors, as I’m not familiar with the British Army. Do they really have that many women fighting on the front lines? Do they really leave corporals in charge of units? Are British troops ever under the command of American forces?

Also–and I cannot state this enough–there is no God damn such thing as an Hispanic accent. And no Hispanic person on earth would say ‘That’s a really Hispanic thing to do.’

Navy Seals and Mexicans. Is that how they view the US across the pond? I’m surprised Sgt. Carlos wasn’t wearing a sombrero.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Adorable Scamp

Adorable brown haired boy of about 6

As I mentioned earlier, Ellie’s unit has come under fire by a strange group of child solders. And this, unfortunately, is a sad fact of life, kids who should be playing baseball are firing machine guns. The troops capture a boy named Husna. Ellie quickly bonds with him, because she’s a broad and all.

I get that this kid is a pawn in a greater game, but when someone uses a stolen Russian rocket launcher to take down a NATO helicopter, ain’t no one gonna be worrying about his education.

Oh, and he speaks adorable broken English. He can say things like ‘Martyr,’ ‘Explosives’, and ‘Decadent,’ but when asked his age, he has to hold up his fingers and say ‘This many.’

Though I’m not surprised. Everyone in Afghanistan apparently speaks a little English.

Anti Bonus Factor: Ghosts of War

Outline of ghostly figure

And there’s ghosts. Seriously. Ghosts. Like, actual spirits of dead people. In a book about a current war.

Bromance Status: That Guy Who Flunked out of Junior ROTC and Still Tells Combat Stories

You weren’t there. I don’t care how noble your cause is, you still don’t know what it was like over there. Neither do I, but at least I didn’t try to pass of the War in Afghanistan as a supernatural romance.

FTC Full Disclosure: I got a free copy of this book from Chicken House Press, out of the UK. Obviously, I was not paid to write a good review.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.