Postcards from Pismo is a monologic epistolary, meaning that we only get the letters and emails written by Felix Maldonado, the protagonist, while the precise contents of the responses he receives in return must be inferred. Felix's letters are addressed to Lt. Marcus Greene, an American soldier stationed in Afghanistan. His first letter is the result of a class project to send mail to the overseas troops, but Felix and Lt. Greene become ongoing pen pals and develop a close friendship. Felix looks to Lt. Greene for advice on subjects including dealing with school bullies; his concerns about his brother Quin, who has joined the National Guard; and how best to control his habit of worrying.
My favorite thing about Postcards is the way that it stays true to the viewpoint of its main character. Although the novel is set in the present day and deals with the war in Afghanistan, it's essentially apolitical; this is realistic, as few 10-year-old boys have nuanced political views, and the book avoids trying to shoehorn such views in. Also, on several occasions, Felix lacks the patience to wait for a response, and sends a flurry of correspondence. This rang true to me, as I remember having a hard time waiting for things when I was a 10-year-old boy myself. Felix always feels like a real person; I think the epistolary form helps, as it provides opportunities for Felix to drop in asides and personal details.
I do have to say that I'm not sold on the illustrations. The book contains a few of them, in the form of postcards and snapshots, and I think it would have been more effective to use actual photographs rather than black and white drawings.
I don't think Postcards from Pismo quite hits the heights of this year's top J fiction -- the ending is a bit pat and predictable, and I'm not sure it takes full advantage of its coastal California setting. But it's genuinely engaging, and it's well worth a read.