I had no idea that the US Army trained a division of skiing soldiers known as Phantoms in the mountains surrounding Camp Hale, Colorado. The Tenth Mountain Division trained in brutal conditions to be able to tackle any mountain through skiing, rappelling and climbing, no matter the weather. When not training, they looked to enjoy wild adventure before being sent to the Italian Alps at the end of World War II.
In Phantoms in the Snow, Kathleen Benne Duble throws fifteen-year-old Noah into Camp Hale after he lost his parents to small pox. Now he is being sent to live with his Uncle Shelley, whom he has never met, at Camp Hale. There are just two small problems. First, Noah is only fifteen, and you have to be sixteen to sign up to join the war effort. Second, Noah was raised as a pacifist. How will he ever fit in with a group of soldiers? Not to mention, how will this Texas farm boy deal with snowy mountains and learn to ski?
I love how Noah grapples with the questions raised by his experiences at Camp Hale. The training pushes him to the limits of his physical and mental strength as he learns to ski, dig foxholes, rappel, and handle a gun, but he is proud of his accomplishments. He comes to respect and even care for his gruff uncle. He treasures the acceptance and camaraderie that he gains with the other boys, but he doesn’t know how he could ever go to war. When he learns of the atrocities the Nazis are inflicting on the Jews of Europe, he questions if avoiding war is still the right thing to do.
Duble doesn’t give any answers to Noah’s predicament. Just as in life, he has to make a decision with the incomplete information he has and wait for the future to unfold to learn if it was the right choice to make. The characters, too, are mixes of good and bad. Noah is far from perfect. In fact he is often wrapped up in his own self-pity. His uncle Shelley is a daredevil who appears not to care, but he risks his own life to save others. Not only does Phantom in the Snow explore difficult questions of right and wrong, it also shines a light on a little-known part of World War II history.
Enjoy the book trailer for it!