Cover image for Kent State
Kent State
1st ed.
Physical Description:
xi, 132 pages ; 22 cm.
General Note:
Includes a note by the author describing the sources for this story.
Reading Level:
HL 640 L Lexile
Geographic Term:
Told from different points of view--protesters, students, National Guardsmen, and "townies"--recounts the story of what happened at Kent State in May 1970, when four college students were killed by National Guardsmen, and a student protest was turned into a bloody battlefield.


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From two-time National Book Award finalist Deborah Wiles, a masterpiece exploration of one of the darkest moments in our history, when American troops killed four American students protesting the Vietnam War.May 4, 1970.Kent State University.As protestors roil the campus, National Guardsmen are called in. In the chaos of what happens next, shots are fired and four students are killed. To this day, there is still argument of what happened and why.Told in multiple voices from a number of vantage points -- protestor, Guardsman, townie, student -- Deborah Wiles's Kent State gives a moving, terrifying, galvanizing picture of what happened that weekend in Ohio . . . an event that, even 50 years later, still resonates deeply.

Author Notes

Deborah Wiles is the author of the picture book Freedom Summer and the novels: Love, Ruby Lavender ; The Aurora County All-Stars ; and Each Little Bird That Sings , a National Book Award finalist, and A Long Line of Cakes . She is also the author of the documentary novels Countdown and Revolution , a National Book Award Finalist, and Anthem . She has vivid memories of ducking and covering under her school desk during air-raid drills at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. She also sang in the Glee Club, was a champion speller, and hated Field Day. Deborah lives in Atlanta, Georgia. You can visit her on the web at

Reviews 5

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7--10--The Kent State shootings are recounted in poems voiced by the affected, from students to townspeople to the National Guard. Chaotic and contradictory, the narrative reflects the atmosphere on campus and in the nation. Each voice has its own font, but the identity of the speaker is not always clear. "Lament" introduces the four dead students and mentions the nine wounded. The events of the weekend are covered day by day as students' anger rises, they act out, and the National Guard is called in, culminating with the shootings on May 4th. "Elegy" ties the shooting to past and present atrocities urging readers "to be informed citizens." The phrase "Insert Your Name Here" in bold print is sprinkled in the May 4th and Elegy sections, which is distracting, but also forces readers to engage in the events. The townspeople, National Guard, and Black United Students are the only clearly defined narrators. The font for the townspeople is the smallest, making it easy to overlook. The prelude explains the impact of the Vietnam War on the U.S., and the author provides detailed information on the research and writing process at the end. VERDICT The use of multiple voices captures the tumult of the Kent State campus and varying perspectives on events, but can make the story difficult to follow at times. A good general purchase.--Tamara Saarinen, Pierce County Library, WA

Publisher's Weekly Review

Via many perspectives, this powerful free verse work explores the Kent State University shootings that shocked the U.S. in May 1970. Wiles (the Sixties Trilogy) sets the stage with a narrative prelude that contextualizes the campus unrest alongside the draft and seemingly unwinnable Vietnam War, and details how the incursion into neutral Cambodia further escalated tensions. The narrative begins as a lament and immediately draws the reader into the events with voices from varied points of view, including students, townspeople, the National Guard, and the Black United Students of Kent State. Font, size, and spacing set off the distinct, often conflicting, perspectives, thoughtfully underscoring each. Wiles divides the text into the four days leading up to the shootings, and eulogizes each of the four massacred students. The black students' voice proves particularly poignant in its depiction of long-standing institutionalized racism, and Wiles effectively portrays the combustible and enduring controversies that led to this tragedy. Ending with an extensive author's note, this hard-hitting historical novel provides valuable perspective on unrest and violence, both timely and timeless, and an invitation that speaks to the present: "We hope you're/ on fire/ for change." Ages 12--up. (Apr.)

Horn Book Review

On May 4, 1970, four students were killed by the National Guard on the campus of Kent State University during a protest against the Vietnam War and the bombing of Cambodia. Wiles, author of Countdown (rev. 5/10) and other titles in the "documentary novel" Sixties trilogy, recalls the heart-wrenching event in somber free verse. The book's structure is unusual: disembodied voices, differentiated by typeface, representing disparate campus constituencies as well as the "townies" of Kent, Ohio, engage in a passionate imagined conversation. After a concise prelude that summarizes America's involvement in Vietnam, two voices welcome the reader, offering to share "what we remember / so it won't happen again." They are revealed to be two former Kent State students, and are soon joined by a local couple angry at the "commie hippie pinko" student agitators; members of the National Guard; and others. All bicker and lay blame, but eventually sincerely wish that the murdered students "rest in peace." Notable among the voices are the weary members of the Black United Students group, who are sadly familiar with white authoritarian violence; and the Guard's volunteer soldiers, many of whom were just teenagers themselves. The -format -effectively captures the pain, confusion, and conflicting perspectives of the time while also making direct connections to current acts of gun violence and governmental overreach. The equally absorbing author's note, full of fascinating research forays and information about 1960s protest songs, should not be skipped. Jennifer Hubert Swan May/June 2020 p.135(c) Copyright 2020. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

A free-verse treatment of the killing of four college students during campus protests over the Vietnam War. College campuses were often flashpoints in the struggle against the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War. In May 1970, protestors at Kent State University in Ohio were met by the Ohio National Guard, culminating in the deaths of four unarmed college students and injuries to nine others. The university and the small town surrounding it were all affected by the escalating tensions and disagreement over how to handle the issues. The governor's strict approach was welcomed by some but resisted by many on campus. Each of the deceased students is described in detail, including how they came to be in the line of fire. Readers hear from a guardsman and a town resident as well as students, their voices showing how perspectives differed depending on individuals' roles. Especially compelling are the words of black students, many of whom stayed away from the demonstration, believing, correctly, that the guardsmen had live ammunition. The structure serves to re-create the taut atmosphere of the days leading up to the tragedy, and various perspectives are represented by different fonts and typeface, furthering the sense of polarization. The extensive author's note extends the narrative, engaging readers in the author's process and the story's impact. A well-researched and deeply moving portrait of an iconic moment in U.S. history. (Verse novel. 12-18) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

History records that on May 4, 1970, four students at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, were shot and killed by members of the Ohio National Guard during a campus demonstration against the U.S. bombing of Cambodia. This is the story of that day and the three days of unrest preceding it. Wiles tells her story through unattributed voices of students and townspeople, of National Guardsmen, of Black and white individuals, of all those involved. To differentiate the voices, they are set in various typefaces and arranged on the page in columns, evoking a kind of call-and-response. The voices often meld into a deliberately confusing cacophony, reflecting the lingering uncertainty over certain details of those four days; rumors remain, and it is often forgotten, for example, that nine other students were injured on May 4. Wiles lists their names as well as those of the four who were killed: Sandy Scheuer, Bill Schroeder, Jeff Miller, and Allison Krause. She writes movingly about them and their short lives and brings a visceral energy to the events of the tragedy. In her account, Wiles implicitly challenges her readers to find parallels between then and now and, in so doing, does a service to history. An important book not to be missed.--Michael Cart Copyright 2020 Booklist