I also read this for a class, and quite enjoyed it. It's classified as Young Adult literature (one of the things we are discussing is just what YA lit really is), but has some heavy ideas, some very grown up scenes in it, and clocks in at about 300 pages.
The story is about a recent HS graduate who enlists and is sent off to Viet Nam.
With fewer details about the intricacies of basic training, breaking down and cleaning one's rifle, and the irony of war (sent to help but actually harming) it's only just more than your typical VN war book/story, and fits neatly in the genre. What is most compelling to me is Richie's justification for joining: his family needed the money. With no dad and a little brother still in high school, Richie was the bread winner as soon as he graduated from high school.
I think this is important, especially now, as Bush's haphazard, aimless foreign policy puts young men and women in danger who were probably in the same position as Richie - no money for college, no decent job prospects, and few opportunities for upward mobility or economic independence.