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An academy book about an academy!

  • Mar 18, 2006
In the last few months, I've read a handful of young-adult novels from the 1930s to the 1950s about midshipmen or cadets at the US Naval Academy, the US Merchant Marine Academy, and now, with this title, the US Coast Guard Academy. This one struck me as the best of them all -- not only thanks to the author's avoidance of the clich├ęs of the genre, but because for once, the book's setting actually made a difference!

"Coast Guard Cadets" features the usual interpersonal conflict between two high-achieving cadets. But instead of playing out (as is typical in this kind of book) in the rowing shells or on the football field, here the things that matter in their rivalry are academic standing, military performance, and the qualities that matter to a commissioned officer. While those other books were essentially typical school stories that happened to be set at a naval school, here -- finally -- is a story that's actually *about* a naval school! Finding something like that is the reason I've been trolling through these old books in the first place, and so I was quite pleased finally to locate what I'd been searching for.

Part of the difference is that the author, Kensil Bell, had written several books about the Coast Guard, including an earlier novel featuring this title's protagonist ("Jim Steel of the Ice Patrol," a/k/a just "Ice Patrol," 1937). And so presumably his readers were interested in Coast Guard stories, not necessarily just school stories.

For a book published in 1941, there is one topic missing from "Coast Guard Cadets," and that's the war. There's no mention whatsoever of the looming specter of conflict, not even when the cadets are taking their summer cruise through the Caribbean -- which even before December 7 was hardly U-Boat-free territory -- or of the pending incorporation of the Coast Guard into the Navy, which happened a mere month after the first edition of this book was published in October, 1941. That struck me as a very odd omission in what is otherwise a pretty good addition to a now dated and forgotten genre.

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About the reviewer
Andrew S. Rogers ()
Ranked #362
Mostly, I'm a moderately prolific Amazon.com reviewer who's giving Lunch a try as another venue for my reviews.
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Author: Kensil Bell
Publisher: Dodd, Mead & Co

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