Eli is ten during this summer. His sister, Josie, is sixteen, causing her mother constant aggravation by misbehaving - especially when she sneaks out of their home wearing a pair of jeans with an Amerian flag on the rear of them. Their father is plagued by flashbacks of his time in the war, and Eli struggles to understand what is going on. His best friend Edie is also going through her own tough times as her family falls apart. When Eli's aunt Nell moves in, he is happy to have this beloved relative near him. And despite the fact that Nell and her brother (Eli's dad) are in opposition when it comes to matters of war, the two siblings seem to live in harmony during this summer.
There are so many references to this time period - to the music of Bob Dylan, bell bottoms, war protesters, the Beatles, Jimmy Carter- that it truly feels like the 1970s and this decade comes to life.
While I have read several books about the Vietnam War, this is perhaps the first I have read for youth that deals with how the war affected the soldiers and their families - even years after the men return. Eli's innocence about this makes it stand out even more. He is just getting to an age where he is starting to notice that the nation's attitude toward the Vietnam veterans is different than it's attitude toward veterans of earlier wars. There is a very telling scene in this book during the Bicentennial parade where all the veterans march, each grouped by the war they served in. There is no representation for the Vietnam veterans. While Stanton (Eli's dad) still suffers from what he saw and took part in during the war, the way he is treated upon his return does not help matters. Eli so wants to know why his father is so changed, and decides to read the letters his father sent his mother while he was off serving his country. Although wrong, by reading them Eli can see how much his parents love each other, and the horrors his father is strill trying to forget.
The summer of 1976 is a time of growing up for Eli. House has written this book as though Eli is narrating it as an adult, looking back at this pivotal time in his life. It is good to know that although 1976 was a rough time for their family, Eli and the rest of the characters in this book remain true to who they are and have continued on with their lives.