I felt horrified. I was looking right at the dark side of my moon now and I knew it. But I was not afraid. There are times you must look at it, stare it down, know what it consists of, know what you are capable of, and face it.
(from Juliet’s Moon, page 226)
Ann Rinaldi has reinforced my love of middle-grade historical fiction with Juliet’s Moon, a fictionalized account of Quantrill’s Raiders and the Grand Avenue prison collapse in Kansas City during the U.S. Civil War in 1863. Rinaldi tells the story through the eyes of Juliet Bradshaw, a 12-year-old girl who in the prologue witnesses the Yankees burning down her family’s home and shooting her father dead. The Bradshaw family is targeted by the Yankees because Juliet’s older brother, Seth, now her guardian, is a high-ranking member of a group of renegade Confederate bushwhackers led by William Clarke Quantrill.
Shortly after she is rescued by Seth and brought to the home of his intended, Martha Anderson, sister to Bill (later “Bloody Bill”) Anderson, Juliet and the Anderson sisters are arrested by the Yankees and taken to a prison in a dilapidated building in Kansas City. They are accompanied by Sue Mundy, the only female member of Quantrill’s Raiders who fascinates the Yankees despite secretly being a young man. Juliet has long been in awe of Sue Mundy, and the two become friends, which will help them both in the long run.
After Juliet and Martha narrowly escape death when the prison collapses, her world is really turned upside down, and she endures even more hardships than can be expected of most 12-year-olds. But Juliet is a survivor, a sassy girl with more gumption than women three or four times her age. Her strong will is something her brother admires, but it also causes him much grief, especially when he needs to keep her identity as Seth Bradshaw’s sister a secret. Of course, Juliet manages time and again to show her independent spirit, and her relationship with Seth is marked both by tension and intense love.
Rinaldi really brings the tensions between the Confederates and the Yankees at the Missouri-Kansas border to life. She doesn’t write overly graphic scenes, but she doesn’t sugarcoat the tragedies of war either. The reality is that war affects kids and adults alike, and Rinaldi emphasizes that in Juliet’s Moon, along with the fact that children can be just as strong as adults in times of great hardship.
I admit that I don’t know as much about the Civil War as I should, so Rinaldi taught me a lot about life during that era. While the Bradshaws were fictional characters, she includes real-life figures in Juliet’s Moon: William Quantrill, Bloody Bill Anderson, Sue Mundy, and even Jesse James. The prison collapse really happened, as did the raid on Lawrence, Kansas, by Quantrill’s men in retaliation for the deaths of their loved ones. Juliet’s Moon would be a good introduction for young readers to life during the Civil War. I’m sure young girls especially would find much to like about Juliet, including her strength and quick thinking, along with the fact that Rinaldi shows her making impetuous decisions like most girls that age. Even adults can enjoy the book, as evidenced by the fact that I plowed through the 250 pages in about a day. Above all, Juliet’s Moon shows that both sides in a war commit atrocities, and that while war changes everyone, some use their newfound knowledge to exact revenge and some use it to survive.
© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.