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Luke McHenry loves baseball. After repeated disappointments, he is determined to make the All Star team. Then his mother makes an explosive confession: 31 years ago she was involved in an anti–Vietnam War protest that went horribly wrong, and a student was killed. Mom has been in hiding ever since, but now she is ready to turn herself in. While her whole life in Alaska has been a masquerade, for Luke it is his only reality. Suddenly, everything—from the baseball season to his very identity—is in jeopardy.
As Luke witnesses his mother’s struggle to face up to the mistakes of her youth, he begins to understand his own hopes and fears—and who he really is. Free Radical is both a contemporary coming-of-age story and a moving depiction of a parent’s guilt and need for forgiveness.


Read a selection from the book.

Editorial Reviews

“Combining an unusual theme with a well-developed and broad-ranging plot, Murphy has created an insightful and involving story. In the summer between eighth and ninth grades, Luke McHenry is ready to put all of his energy into playing the best baseball he can and making the All-Star team in Fairbanks, AK. Then his mother drops a bombshell into their quiet life…”
— School Library Journal

“…..There are no easy answers in this well-written, intensively researched novel. The conflict is exceedingly well drawn, highlighting political and social issues that often get overlooked today.”
— Christopher Moning – Children’s Literature

“This is a well-written, compelling story of guilt, justice, identity, forgiveness, coming of age, and coming to terms… An excellent angle on the Vietnam War and its legacy.”
– Kirkus Review

Author’s Research Notes

When working on this book I needed to know about Little League baseball and life in Fairbanks, Alaska. This was not difficult because our son played baseball for years and we lived in Fairbanks for twenty-one years. So those story details came out of my life experience.

Like Faith McHenry in the story, I also attended college during the Vietnam era and used those experiences in the book. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is one source of information about the Vietnam War protests of the 1960s/early 1970s, in case you want to delve into it yourself. It also includes information for teachers.

Students Against the Vietnam War

When U.S. policy in Vietnam changed to military involvement, some Americans began to question it. At first, from about 1964 to 1965, the most vocal opposers of the Vietnam War were groups that most Americans considered radical, such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC.) Members of these groups argued that America’s involvement in the war was immoral because the Vietnamese were engaged in a civil war and America wasn’t fighting to help the Vietnamese but rather to increase our economic and military power in the world. However, other Americans believed that U.S. policy in Vietnam was to stop Communism.

In 1965 the first national demonstration against the war took place on April 17. About 20,000 people rallied on the grounds of the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. After that, college teach-ins, underground newspapers, and alternative radio shows became part of the antiwar movement. Some people took part in more violent means of protesting the war until America finally pulled out in 1974. By then, many mainstream Americans had come to see that our involvement was futile.

Restorative Justice

Restorative justice emphasizes healing the wounds of victims, offenders, and communities caused by criminal behavior. In Free Radical, Luke helps set up a session to help his mom and the victim’s family. Web sites with information about this important work are:

Prison Fellowship International Restorative Justice Online
Prison Fellowship International Centre for Justice and Reconciliation
University of Minnesota Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking

The session that Luke suggested was a form of restorative justice called Victim-Offender Mediation (VOM). Victim-Offender Mediation is a face-to-face meeting, in the presence of a trained mediator, between the victim of a crime and the person who committed that crime. The practice is also called restorative justice dialogue. In some meetings, the victim and the offender are joined by family, as happened in Free Radical.

In the meeting, the offender and the victim can talk to each other about what happened, the effects of the crime on their lives, and their feelings about it. Crime victims have an opportunity to get answers to their questions about the crime and the person who committed it. Offenders have an opportunity to take responsibility for what they have done. They learn the impact of their actions on others. They take an active role in making things right, through restitution, apology, or community service.

The first Victim Offender Reconciliation Program was started in 1976; in 2000 there were more than 1,200 programs world-wide. This information was taken from the Victim Offender Mediation Association web site. Check it out to learn even more about this remarkable program.

Here’s a great list of other books centered on sports, teens, and the challenges in their lives.

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