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Kirkus

TO ANY SOLDIER
G.C. Hendricks and Kathryn Watson Quigg iUniverse (266 pp.)
$17.95 paperback, $5.99 e-book
ISBN: 978-1-4917-6873-0; October 30, 2015

BOOK REVIEW

A novel about a collection of letters between a Marine fighter pilot in Vietnam and a college freshman that tracks a profound friendship.

In 2001, 56-year-old Jay Fox finds a box of letters in his shed that he wrote when he was a young fighter pilot in Vietnam in 1968. A college freshman, Ashley Beth Justice, had written a letter “To Any Soldier” as part of a pen-pal program, which was apparently designed to boost the morale of soldiers overseas, and Jay chose to answer it. Both correspondents were brought up in North Carolina, but other than that, they seem worlds apart. Despite his young age, Jay has seen significant amounts of combat and has acclimated himself to a culture saturated in death. Ashley’s life, by comparison, seems sheltered and quotidian, as she worries about boyfriends and school. However, the two form an improbably intimate bond that quickly blooms into something deep and romantic. Their discussions are wide-ranging, with philosophical, sometimes-contentious exchanges about war, gender, politics, and even art. Jay eventually reveals a more tender side—one he usually suppresses, fearing the potential effects of emotional distraction on his martial duties. Ashley, meanwhile, turns out to be tougher and worldlier than she first appears. Hendricks (The Second War, 1990), a former Marine and a creative writing instructor, displays his military experience, and he and Quigg, his co-author, show a keen sense of character development. For example, despite Jay’s sometimes-strident declarations about the world, he can also be impressively thoughtful and vulnerable: “big gods look down on little man, at the drama and the absurdity of it all,” he writes. “All I know for sure is I’m glad I had you to write to the morning of July 13.” Together, the authors craft a marvelously sensitive portrayal of an affectionate relationship, conducted in epistles over thousands of miles. It’s an affecting depiction, sweet but never cloying and brimming with wisdom about the strength and fragility of love.

A beautiful, achingly affectionate love story in correspondence.

Kirkus Indie, Kirkus Media LLC, 6411 Burleson Rd., Austin, TX 78744 indie@kirkusreviews.com


Foreword Clarion Review

To Any Soldier
A Novel of Vietnam Letters

Reviewed by Amy O’Loughlin

A college student and a soldier trade letters in this indelible coming-of-age novel.

G. C. Hendricks and Kathryn Watson Quigg’s poignant To Any Soldier: A Novel of Vietnam Letters is the story of a yearlong exchange of letters between Ashley Beth Justice, a college freshman in North Carolina, and USMC Capt. Jay Fox, a combat pilot serving in Vietnam. Based on the authors’ personal experiences, the novel shows how happenstance can unite two strangers in a bond of intimacy that forever influences their lives.

Ashley Beth and Jay’s correspondence begins in 1968. Nineteen-year-old Ashley Beth learns that many soldiers in Vietnam do not receive much mail. Her sense of patriotic duty compels her to compose a letter “to any soldier” with news from the home front. She confesses that the war feels removed from her everyday life and wonders what it’s like to be overseas and in constant danger.

Jay sees Ashley Beth’s letter on the bulletin board at his headquarters in Da Nang. He replies with blunt accounts of the war, including that his job is to “destroy the enemy regardless of weather, terrain, or proximity of enemy fire.” If he stays alive, Jay declares, he will feast on a breakfast of grits when he returns to base.

After the first letter swap, the two engage in an unwavering and candid sharing of secret fears and desires, innermost emotions, and viewpoints about the war.

The book is an epistolary novel. Only the prologue and epilogue, written from Jay’s perspective, address the reader. Ashley Beth’s letters appear in a script-like typeface, while Jay’s are presented in Courier. These choices are initially distracting. So too is the decision to let the letters stand alone, without interconnected storytelling. But any such initial misgivings are likely to give way to the power of the story as a whole.

Ashley Beth and Jay are well-constructed characters. Ashley Beth’s girlish writing is a strong reflection of who she is: a wide-eyed southern belle making her way through college life. Yet she also has depth, and her ambition and intelligence shine through as well. Jay’s transition from parochialism to broadmindedness is interesting to engage with, and his precision and earnestness make for compelling reading.

Perceptive, well-written, and evocative, the letters offer an indelible portrait of coming-of-age in complicated times. Jay and Ashley Beth’s self-reflections encapsulate the emblematic cultural shifts of the 1960s. Their missives discuss weighty topics like faith and religion, women’s roles, sex, antiwar activism, and combat. They also trade carefree musings about music, tanning, favorite foods, and family. The letters are powerful in their ability to showcase two young people figuring out who they are.

The possibility that Ashley Beth and Jay will meet and transform their on-paper camaraderie into a full-blown romance drives the novel’s drama. To Any Soldier is well worth the journey.


BlueInk Review

To Any Soldier

G.C. Hendricks & Kathryn Watson Quigg

Publisher: iUniverse Pages: 259 Price: (paperback) $17.95 ISBN: 9781491768730 Reviewed: January, 2016 

With the exception of a prologue and epilogue, this compelling novel is told entirely from the late 1960s’ correspondence between a teenaged girl and a Marine attack pilot stationed in Vietnam.

The story begins when former pilot Jay Fox visits a classroom decades after the war and finds his memory sparked by the presence of a young woman in the class. After his talk, he returns home to retrieve a pack of letters kept in a file cabinet in his storage shed. The first letter is addressed “To Any Soldier,” and written by Ashley Beth Justice, a college freshman who has heard soldiers don’t get many letters. Having found the letter on the bulletin board in the Marine quarters in Da Nang, Jay Fox wrote back — and so the correspondence begins.

The two share a common background, both having been raised in the South in nearby communities. She is a naïve 19-year-old, curious about the war but also troubled by it. He’s a seasoned 23-year-old given to using words like “gook,” and “faggot,” with no uncertainty about his mission to kill. While they spar about the war and the anti-war movement, they bond over commonalities, sharing poems and childhood tales and soon, even a fantasy life.

This is a finely written, illuminating tale about an era when our country was at odds over a war that many opposed, a war where veterans were often seen not as heroes but villains. The characters are likeable, but imperfect; their situation realistic; their correspondence humorous, direct and enlightening, particularly as it pertains to the life of a fighter pilot at war. Such a tale could turn predictable, but To Any Soldier does not take the easy path and the outcome is a question to the very poignant end.

This tale takes on difficult issues without blinking, and readers will close the book feeling enlightened and moved. To Any Soldier is sure to please a wide audience.

Also available as an ebook.