Children’s Book Reviews

Children's Book Review: Defend or Die: The Siege of Hong Kong (I AM CANADA series)

Publish March 6, 2015

The only way for nineteen-year-old Jack Finnigan to stay out of jail is to enlist in the Royal Rifles and help fight World War II. The youngest of five, Jack has had his share of wild times so the punishment makes sense. And other than the fact that he has to leave his girlfriend, Alice, at home, he doesnt mindmuch. Jack feels sure the war can offer plenty of adventure and excitement to a big, handsome Canadian boy. And so it does, but not in the way Jack had hoped. The Royal Rifles are sent to Hong Kong to reinforce the British garrison and after some fierce fighting becomes prisoners of war, enduring desperate conditions.

Gillian Chan has a very personal connection to this story and her fascination with the time period shines through: her husband experienced the terror of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong first-hand, while his father worked as a doctor for the British. She aptly paints a picture of the local Chinese residents and their relationship with the soldiers both before and during the occupation, providing an exotic background to the exploits of the young Canadians. As Jack becomes an experienced fighter, his growth is nicely balanced by his loyalty and compassion, humorously punctuated by his cantankerous sergeant.

Readers will also enjoy the military strategy, exciting firefights, and to-the-death camaraderie that Jack, his platoon mates, and their redoubtable sergeant share during the siege. The tension grows as each harrowing incident builds on the next, culminating in a finish that is bittersweet. Sensitive and compelling, Chan shines a light on the realities of war.

Defend or Die: The Siege of Hong Kong

Gillian Chan
Scholastic Canada
ISBN 13: 978-1-4431-1305-2

Penny Draper
Penny Draper Penny Draper lives in Victoria, British Columbia. She is the author of the award-winning “Disaster Strikes!” series, historical fiction that places young protagonists at the centre of real Canadian disasters.

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