Posts Tagged ‘ann rinaldi’

Unknowingly, she sank to her knees.  But before she was there a minute a soldier came by.  “Get on with you, lad.  You can’t stop now.  Keep on.  It’s only twenty-two miles to Alexandria.”

He helped her to her feet.

As he did, Sarah saw that his blouse was shot away and his shoulder had a gaping wound.  She felt ashamed.  She should have been helping him.  She went on.

(from Girl in Blue, page 88)

I’m glad I saved Girl in Blue for my last book for the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge because Ann Rinaldi brings to life two women featured in another book I read for the challenge, Petticoat Spies by Peggy Caravantes — Rose Greenhow and Sarah Emma Edmonds.  Rinaldi tells the story of a fictional Sarah Louisa Wheelock, a teenager longing to escape her family’s Michigan farm and her abusive father.  Sarah expertly rides horses and can shoot a gun to put food on the table, so it’s not surprising that she resists her father’s efforts to marry her off to a widower who is just as bad as her father and merely wants her to care for his children.

Sarah is meant for bigger and better things, and with her mother’s help, she escapes to her aunt’s shop in Flint.  Excitement erupts as war brews between the North and the South, and it is in the midst of this chaos that she does some serious thinking about her future.  She knows she can never return home, so she uses her strength to her advantage, dresses as a young man, and joins the army.  Sarah holds her own through the long marches in ill-fitting shoes in the heat, and unlike many men, she manages to survive the First Battle of Bull Run.  But Sarah sees and does things in battle that will change her forever.

It’s not long before some officers learn of Sarah’s true identity, and at this point, the novel takes an abrupt turn.  Sarah is recruited by Allen Pinkerton’s Union Intelligence Service and becomes a spy.  She is sent to the Washington, D.C., home of known Confederate spy Rose Greenhow, who is under house arrest.  Acting as a maid to Rose and her young daughter, Sarah is tasked with finding out how Rose continues to deliver information to the Confederates.  Sarah soon learns that being a spy is both exhilarating and tricky when she develops feelings for Rose’s daughter and Lieutenant Sheldon, one of the guards who often flirts with Rose.

Girl in Blue is loosely based on the life of Sarah Emma Edmonds in that Sarah Wheelock escapes an abusive home and an arranged marriage, joins the army, and ultimately serves as a spy.  Edmonds became “Franklin Thompson,” while Rinaldi’s Sarah becomes entangled in the web woven by Rose Greenhow.

Once again, Rinaldi makes history exciting for adults and children alike and has created a strong female character in Sarah.  Sarah is forced to make decisions that no adult should have to, and in choosing freedom, she must leave behind her beloved mother and siblings forever.  But Sarah doesn’t merely run away; she chooses to serve her country, which is an admirable thing to do, never mind the fact that she went against society’s expectations and proved that women can indeed do a “man’s job.”  At the same time, Sarah is a typical teenage girl, overcome with emotion and unsure of herself at times, especially when it comes to the opposite sex.

My only complaint with the book is that it seems to end too soon.  Rinaldi spends a lot of time on Sarah’s army service and her work in the camp hospital when the real focus of the novel is her time as a spy.  Sure, her success at disguise is crucial to securing a job with Pinkerton, but I wish Rinaldi would have spent less time on Sarah’s job at camp and more time resolving certain issues related to her confusion about how to handle relationships when she’s told that she can’t trust anyone.

Despite my feelings that the ending was a bit rushed and not as fleshed out it could have been, I still enjoyed Girl in Blue.  It’s an exciting novel that puts a young woman on the front lines.  Through Sarah, Rinaldi puts a face on war and shows that even heroes are scared during their bravest moments.

Disclosure: I borrowed Girl in Blue from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Aunt Susan Elizabeth used to say there was something in all of us that delighted in bullying those lower in the social order of things.  And that was what made slavery so easy for the white folks to practice.

My father said fear is what made it easy to practice.  That down in the Deep South there were places where the blacks outnumbered the whites.  And the whites had to keep them under control.

Both reasons frightened me.  Because whatever my reason was, I was good at it.

(from The Ever-After Bird, page 61)

Yesterday I said Come Juneteenth was my favorite of Ann Rinaldi’s middle grade and young adult historical novels; then I read The Ever-After Bird, which is just as good, if not better.  I read The Ever-After Bird in just a couple of hours, and it blew me away.  Rinaldi based this book on Dr. Alexander Ross, a Canadian physician and renowned ornithologist who sketched birds on the Southern plantations and also was involved in the Underground Railroad.  Because little is known about Ross, much of The Ever-After Bird is fiction, but her version of the doctor is both charming and captivating.

The Ever-After Bird is set in 1851, more than 10 years before the start of the American Civil War, but Rinaldi does a wonderful job showing the horrors of slavery, the persistence of the Abolitionists, and how they both paved the way for war.  CeCe is a 13-year-old girl living in Pennsylvania on the Maryland border wondering why her father felt the need to help raggedy slaves on their way to freedom when he couldn’t treat his own daughter with kindness.  After he is killed by angry plantation owners looking for their runaway slaves, CeCe is left in the care of her Uncle Alex, a doctor and an ornithologist with a kind smile but pain in his eyes.

He proposes to take CeCe with him and his assistant, a former slave turned college student named Earline, on a trip to visit various plantations in Georgia on a search for the scarlet ibis, called the Ever-After Bird by slaves who believed that if they saw it, they would be free ever-after.  CeCe and Earline are unable to see beyond their past hurts to understand one another, and therefore, they are constantly mean to each other.

While on the plantations, Uncle Alex plans to talk to the slaves, give them directions to safe houses on the Underground Railroad, and provide them with a little money.  However, he needs to keep up appearances so that they don’t get caught, and Earline must play the role of slave, not assistant.  CeCe finds that it is easy to treat Earline badly, but then she witnesses some things on the plantations that cause her to rethink everything she’s believed in and realize that her previous stance that people should just be allowed to live how they want to live without interference may not be the best way after all.

The Ever-After Bird is the first Rinaldi novel that I’ve read so far that doesn’t gloss over the issue of slavery.  Many of the characters I’ve encountered so far in her novels are Southern, daughters of slave owners who insist that their families treat their slaves kindly and that their slaves are content in their place in society.  I understand that’s the character’s point of view based on her situation in life, but it felt to me that the reality was barely visible.  However, I excused it because slavery wasn’t the main theme in those novels.

Here, Rinaldi doesn’t sugar-coat slavery.  Female slaves are attacked by their masters and their masters’ sons, but because the book is intended for younger readers, there are no graphic scenes, just mentions of such treatment.  Slaves are used in scientific experiments, they live in crowded conditions where illness is rampant, and they are whipped.  These scenes are necessary for CeCe’s evolution from a young girl broken by guilt and abuse and blind to the mistreatment of others to a young woman who learns about love, kindness, and friendship from Uncle Alex and Earline.  Rinaldi makes it easy for readers to feel CeCe’s pain and understand why she acted the way she did.  I loved Uncle Alex; he understood CeCe because he’d been raised by her father, his older brother.  He knew what CeCe needed, to be loved and feel loved, and he took on the role of “daddy-uncle” with a tenderness that melted my heart.

The Ever-After Bird had me on the edge of my seat.  The tension built as the trio went from one plantation to another, and the cruelty they witnessed intensified.  Rinaldi brilliantly balances the harsh images with more tender ones.  It is a powerful and emotional novel, but it is also sweet and heartwarming.  Definitely not one to be missed.

Disclosure: I borrowed The Ever-After Bird from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Was it right?  We didn’t discuss it.  Did they suspect?  They had no outside information, not even in the slave grapevine, because Pa forbade the visiting back and forth to other plantations, even by men or women who had wives or husbands there.  And they had Sam the overseer’s cooperation.

We became a country unto ourselves.  Did it matter? we asked ourselves.  Who would be hurt with a couple more months in bondage?

I am sure God has that question written down in a dark book in gold print somewhere.

(from Come Juneteenth, page 89)

I’ve read several of Ann Rinaldi’s middle grade and young adult historical novels this year, and so far, Come Juneteenth is my favorite.  In the Author’s Note, Rinaldi says these characters haunted her and that she’s most fond of them, and her love for them shines through in this book — the only one of her novels that has made me tear up.  Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in 1863, but in Texas, the slaves were not told they were free until more than two years later, on June 19, 1865, which is known to this day as Juneteenth.  Come Juneteenth is Rinaldi’s attempt to determine exactly why and how the Texas plantation owners kept the slaves’ freedom a secret until the Union Army rolled in.  Was it because Texas wasn’t part of the States?  Was it because the plantation owners were afraid their slaves would walk away and leave them scrambling to find workers to take over their tasks?  Were they afraid of an uprising?

Rinaldi personalizes this historical event by focusing on the Holcomb family, mainly Luli, her older brother, Gabe, and her “almost” sister, Rose, or Sis Goose.  Sis Goose was born to a slave and a white steamship captain and given to Luli’s Aunt Sophie, a witch of a woman who’s always trying to turn Sis Goose into a servant and threatening to sell her.  As an infant, Sis Goose took to Luli’s mother, so the Holcomb family raised her as their own and never treated her as a slave.  Three years older than Luli, they grew up together as sisters, getting into trouble together, laughing, and trading secrets.  However, as teenagers, their relationship changes when Luli realizes that Gabe and Sis Goose are in love.

Honor means a lot to Gabe, and when he joins the Confederate Army and is sent to fight the Native Americans, he is haunted by the images of the women and children that died at his hands.  He means to marry Sis Goose, but she says she must be free first.  However, when a former slave arrives at the ranch and tells the Holcombs that the slaves have been freed, he is given payment for his silence and sent on his way.  Luli’s brothers insist that she must not let the news slip, not even to Sis Goose.  Gabe is torn throughout the book between his love for Sis Goose and his decision to keep her freedom a secret, his love for Luli and his need to discipline her, his duty to his country and his belief that the country should be united, and his belief that his family treated their slaves well and the realization that slavery in any form is wrong.

With her father near death and the Union Army taking over the plantation house, Luli’s life is in chaos.  When Sis Goose finds out that her family has hidden the fact that she has long been free, the consequences bring the Holcombs to their knees.  How can a family torn apart by war and lies ever be reassembled?

Come Juneteenth is a fast-paced novel that grabbed my attention right from the start.  Why are Luli and Gabe making their way across the prairie in search of a young woman they both love?  Why did they have to conceal Sis Goose’s freedom, when she loved them and wasn’t likely to leave?  The answers to these questions pulled at my heart, and Rinaldi doesn’t pave the way for a happy ending this time…but that’s what makes this book so good.  The characters are so flawed, yet so easy to love:  Gabe with his sense of honor, his tenderness and affection for Luli, his loyalty and love for Sis Goose; Luli, the sassy, trouble-making girl who can shoot a gun and ride a horse and has nothing but good intentions; and Sis Goose, whose brokenness hit me hard in the gut.  I can see why Rinaldi had a hard time leaving these characters behind.

Rinaldi never fails to inform me about historical events that I didn’t learn in school.  I knew nothing about Texas during the Civil War and had never heard about Juneteenth until reading this book.  That’s why I insist that Rinaldi’s novels are perfect for adults and younger readers alike.  Come Juneteenth has a little something for everyone:  war, romance, action, family secrets, complicated sibling relationships, tragedy, and redemption.  Highly recommended, but keep the tissues handy.

Disclosure: I borrowed Come Juneteenth from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Here is a man [Matthew Brady] who has seized the moment, and I admire him very much.  He was at Fort Sumter to take pictures three days after the evacuation of the Union garrison.  This will be a war of photographs, he says.  His aim is to place these photographs in front of the people so they do not become complacent about the killing.  He says he aims to photograph dead bodies.  Well, I suppose he has a point.  If people actually see what is being done, they won’t be so eager to have parades and military celebrations in honor of the war.

(from Sarah’s Ground, page 123)

Mount Vernon, the Virginia plantation and family home of George Washington, was the only neutral ground during the American Civil War.  I had the pleasure of touring the home and the grounds more than a decade ago, so it was interesting to read about the home when it was being restored and war was being waged all around it.  Sarah’s Ground is based on the true story of Sarah Tracy, a young woman from New York who took a job at the estate as a caretaker of sorts.  Ann Rinaldi used historical information in Sarah’s letters to Miss Cunningham of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in writing the book, but Rinaldi imagined much of Sarah’s story because her journals and other papers from her years at Mount Vernon were destroyed after the war when her home near Fairfax burned.

Sarah has just completed her schooling at the Troy Female Seminary when she gets the job as Mount Vernon’s caretaker in 1861.  She will be working alongside Miss Cunningham, mostly writing letters, raising money, and bringing back some of the home’s original furnishings.  One of the area’s most eligible bachelors, Upton Herbert, is also in residence, and he is overseeing the restoration of the home, Washington’s tomb, and the grounds.  He longs to join the war effort, but he promised Miss Cunningham that he wouldn’t, that his job at Mount Vernon was just as important.

Sarah is the youngest child in her family.  Her parents are older, and she was mainly raised by her siblings.  She views accepting the job as a rebellion of sorts; she’s sick of being sent away to stay with friends of the family in hopes of finding a husband.  However, she worries that Miss Cunningham will find out about her little lie — that she’s only 18, not 22, like she said when applying for the job.

Sarah soon shows her spunk.  She responds to criticisms of the restoration project, kicks Washington’s relative out of the home, and questions whether the servants — descendents of Washington’s slaves — are free and insists that they be paid — all during her first day on the job.  On trips to Washington, D.C., to procure supplies, Sarah presses General McClellan and even President Lincoln for the necessary passes for her and the servants.  She makes soldiers wear shawls to cover their uniforms when visiting Washington’s tomb, entertains Napoleon, and refuses to give Mrs. Lincoln a tour for fear that she would be viewed as taking sides in the war.  When Miss Cunningham must return to South Carolina to care for her ill mother, Sarah is left alone with Upton — which is okay because he’s a true Southern gentleman — until her flirty and obnoxious friend, Mary, arrives and creates waves.

Sarah’s Ground is an interesting novel (intended for younger readers but enjoyable to all) about Sarah Tracy’s efforts to create an island of neutrality in the midst of a very divisive war.  I liked Sarah and Upton, and I enjoyed watching their relationship grow in a very caring, innocent way.  Even though much of the story is fiction, I think Rinaldi did a good job making Sarah strong, likable, and true to the women of the era.  Although there isn’t much plot, Sarah’s Ground is a nice, quiet novel that introduces readers to a little known event in our nation’s history, the preservation of Mount Vernon and how it survived the Civil War.

Disclosure: I borrowed Sarah’s Ground from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Miss Clara says all that is necessary for evil to exist is for good men to do nothing.

I would add, women.  I would add, me.

(from Numbering All the Bones, page vi)

Numbering All the Bones is set in 1864-65 on a plantation near Andersonville, Georgia, and is told from the point of view of a 13-year-old house slave, Eulinda.  Eulinda’s family was torn apart by the first wife of her master, Mr. Hamilton, who also happens to be her biological father.  Her mother died from cholera, her little brother was sold after being accused of stealing a ring, and her 16-year-old brother ran away from the plantation with the ring and joined the Union Army.  Eulinda lives in the big house and is educated, and because of this, she is not completely trusted by the other slaves.

Numbering All the Bones is a middle-grade novel that touches upon slavery during the Civil War, showing how difficult life was for slaves without making it too hard for younger readers to handle.  Eulinda was mistreated by Mr. Hamilton’s first wife, who spit in her food, among other things, but as a house slave, she also is treated better than some of the others; for instance, she is educated and not forced to perform hard labor.  She even has a pet dog.  But when Mr. Hamilton begins to withdraw from life after learning that his son has gone missing in the war, his second wife — a Yankee who plays both sides in order to turn a profit — seeks to gain more control over the plantation.

Ann Rinaldi’s real purpose in Numbering All the Bones is to tell the story of the notorious Andersonville Prison camp, where 13,000 Yankee soldiers died from starvation, disease, and exposure in a little more than a year.  Eulinda witnesses the horrors of Andersonville first hand when she learns her older brother, Neddy, is being held there.  She sees the overcrowding, the lack of food, how the prisoners are left to fend for themselves when it comes to shelter, and how goods are smuggled in and sold to the prisoners who are desperate to survive.  The Confederates even open the camp to the curious eyes of men and women who climb to the parapets and act like they’re on a field trip to a zoo.

When the war ends, Eulinda makes her way to the Andersonville prison and joins an effort led by a former Confederate officer, William Griffin, who essentially plans to “number all the bones,” or dig up the dead and give them a proper burial as a way of making amends for the senselessness and horror of war.  During this lengthy project, Eulinda meets Clara Barton, who is assisting the efforts and reaching out to the former slaves who come to Andersonville seeking help.

Rinaldi packs a lot of history into Numbering All the Bones, and even though it is intended for younger readers, I found it interesting because I know very little about Andersonville.  This short book only scratches the surface of the horrific things that happened at the prison, but it provides a good introduction and should prompt readers to research more of the facts.  Like the other novels I’ve read by Rinaldi, she creates a strong main character in Eulinda, but unlike those other novels, I don’t feel like I got to know her very well.  Although the book is written in the first person, Eulinda seems to simply chronicle the events that are going on around her.  However, Rinaldi does a good job of showing the confusion that the slaves faced when the war was over, as many didn’t know where to go or what to do with themselves after being granted their freedom.

Numbering All the Bones is a great book for parents to discuss with their children.  Rinaldi makes parallels between Andersonville and the concentration camps of World War II, touching upon whether or not people living on the outskirts of the prison were truly ignorant of what was going on there.  She doesn’t focus on the action on the battlefield, but what happened to one house slave on one plantation and how she and those around her picked up the pieces afterward.  Rinaldi not only covers an important part of our nation’s history, but she also shows how the war changed people, both soldiers and slaves, and while some fell into depression or helplessness after experiencing such horror, others tried to put things right.

Check out my reviews of other books by Ann Rinaldi:

Juliet’s Moon
Amelia’s War
My Vicksburg

Disclosure: I borrowed Numbering All the Bones from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon Associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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“Landon,” I asked softly, “what’s wrong with Robert?”

“Took a minie ball in the shoulder at the Big Black River.”

I knew he was lying.

“But why is he so…”

“So what?”

“Like he’s carrying such a burden inside him?”

“You mean suspicious, mistrusting, and fearful?”


“He’s no coward.  Let’s get that straight now.  He does have a burden.  But I can’t tell what it is.  Patient-doctor relationship.”

“Oh, Landon.”

One more poke, this one harder.  “That’s all.  No more questions.  My God, look at those caves on that hillside.  What in the name of all that’s holy have they done to my Vicksburg?”

(from My Vicksburg, pages 38-39)

Claire Louise Corbet is a 13-year-old girl living a relatively carefree existence in Vicksburg, Mississippi, when the Civil War comes to her doorstep.  Ann Rinaldi brings the 47-day siege of Vicksburg, which took place from May 18-July 4, 1863, to life through Claire Louise’s eyes in My Vicksburg.  The Civil War not only divided a nation, but it also divided families.  Claire Louise’s father is a doctor and a major in the Confederate army, and tensions arise when her older brother, Landon, also a doctor, joins the Union army.  Landon’s decision strains the father-son relationship, and it also prompts his girlfriend, Sarah, to chop her hair short, have an identifying mole removed, and join the Confederate army as a man.

When the Union begins shelling Vicksburg, her father goes off to treat the wounded, and Claire Louise, her mother, and little brother, James, take refuge in a cave that her father had carved out for them in the hillside.  Unlike other, less prestigious families, the Corbet’s cave has running water and many of the comforts of home.  Yet the people are only able to move about freely when the Union soldiers cease shelling at regular intervals to take their meals.

In My Vicksburg, Claire Louise learns just how divisive war can be when her brother comes home with a wounded Confederate soldier.  Robert is pained not just from his injury but also from a burden he carries — a burden that has left Landon unsure of what to do.  Should he tend to Robert, then allow him to go free?  Or should he turn him over to the authorities as a prisoner, which would save Landon’s career and reputation but mean almost certain death for Robert?  Claire Louise befriends the young man and decides that she must take matters into her own hands, even if it means jeopardizing her relationship with her brother.

Rinaldi has become my go-to author for Civil War fiction because even though her novels are geared toward younger readers, I find them informative and exciting.  Her heroines are always strong and full of spunk, and they are always conflicted, flawed, and most importantly, real.  Claire Louise, as the only daughter, is unsure of her place in the family and unsure of her father’s feelings for her.  She wants to do something for the war effort, something big that she can tell her grandchildren about someday, so she braves the bloodiness and sickness in a local hospital to pen letters for wounded soldiers.  She has a fierce love for her older brother, but is willing to put their relationship on the line to stand up for what she believes in her soul is right.

However, I think Rinaldi tends to gloss over the issue of slavery, at least in My Vicksburg.  Maybe she tackles it in another novel, and maybe she didn’t want to broach the subject in this book, but I think it does a disservice to her younger readers to only portray white characters who treat their slaves respectably.  I’m sure there may have been whites who didn’t mistreat their slaves, but they were still slave owners.  Yet at the same time, I understand that Rinaldi is telling the story from the point of a young girl whose family owns slaves and that this is how she perceives things.  Nevertheless, in My Vicksburg, the house slaves are called “servants,” but from references about how her father bought them, it’s obvious they are slaves, though younger readers might not pick up on that and think they are just hired help.  They also are portrayed as being happy to help, with one particular slave asking permission to take on a paying job in order to earn money to help Robert.  I don’t know whether such a thing happened during that time, but it just didn’t seem authentic to me.

Still, My Vicksburg shows the hardships that the people endured during the siege, mainly how the Union won the town by essentially starving its people, and even while devising ways for the Corbets to be well fed, Rinaldi emphasizes how their neighbors weren’t so lucky.  She also shows how the war pitted loved ones against one another and forced people of all ages to make difficult decisions.  Moreover, Rinaldi doesn’t sugarcoat the trials and horrors of war, understanding that younger readers can handle such truths.  Given that I know so little about the Civil War, I love how, even as an adult, I can identify with her characters and learn about the war in manageable chunks so as not to be overwhelmed.  Rinaldi includes an author’s note at the end to separate fact from fiction, which always give me a push to do more research.  You can bet I’ll be reading more of Rinaldi’s work in the near future.

Check out my reviews of other books by Ann Rinaldi:

Juliet’s Moon
Amelia’s War

Disclosure: I borrowed My Vicksburg from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Mama and I were Southerners, but not Rebels.  We were for the Union, but not the Yankees.  You have to be from Maryland to understand it.  Mrs. Gruber was a Rebel, but we were invited because she and Mama had always been friends.  We were all still neighbors who’d known each other forever, and nobody knew yet how to draw the lines. 

(from Amelia’s War, page 1)

When I discovered that Amelia’s War took place in Hagerstown, Maryland, during the Civil War I knew I had to read it.  First, I’ve lived in Maryland since 2001 but have yet to really explore the state’s rich Civil War history.  Second, I’ve actually been to Hagerstown, and even though I saw signs for the Antietam battlefield, I was clueless about the town’s history.  Also, since I don’t know a whole lot about the Civil War, I’ve found that Ann Rinaldi’s historical fiction for young readers provides enough of a historical background without overwhelming me with information about the various battles.

Amelia’s War opens in August 1861 and is told from the first person point of view of 11-year-old Amelia Grafton, whose father is the town treasurer and runs a general store in town and whose grandmother works with the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia.  After a young man entering the Confederate Army is shot to death in nearby Williamsport as he fled the farewell tea party attended by Amelia and her mother, Amelia tells what she saw to the owner of the Hagerstown Mail, and he writes a front-page editorial that points an angry finger at the Yankees.  The owner of the newspaper — who also is the father of Amelia’s close friend, Josh — is sent to prison because of his “Southern leanings,” which ultimately lead to the destruction of his printing press and his flight from town.  The whole incident makes Amelia feel awful.  She wanted to take a stand and do something for the war effort, but she didn’t want to leave Josh alone in the newspaper office fending for himself without a parent around to care for him.

Hagerstown is in a state of confusion.  While Maryland is officially part of the Union, its residents are divided on the matter, and some, like the Graftons, support the Union but realize that it’s not a black-and-white issue.  Amelia’s mother, for instance, will feed and bandage any soldier who needs help, whether Union or Confederate, but things get complicated when General Lee and his Rebel troops sweep into town, forcing Amelia’s father into hiding due to his Union sympathies, getting her younger brother, Sky, excited about the soldiers and the war, and angering her older brother, Wes, into action.

As the years of the war pass, Amelia sees the people around her taking part in the war effort, but she sits on the sidelines.  She has lots of opinions about the war and wants them to be valued even if she is a girl, but she refuses to take part in any war-related activity after what happened to Josh’s father and the role she played in the situation.  She sees Wes go to war, Josh print news stories to bring the truth to the people, her mother help the wounded, and Wes’s girlfriend, Jinny, outwardly oppose the presence of Lee’s troops in Hagerstown.  Amelia begins to wonder when it will become her war.

“You’re a woman, Jinny.  Nobody expects it of you.”

“I expect it of myself.  The war has hurt us bad.  My pa has to hide up in the mountain.  I can’t pretend it doesn’t exist, I have to do something.  Sooner or later, we all have to.”  She stared at me with an unblinking gaze.

I flushed.  “I suppose you’re saying that on my account.  Because I haven’t made it my war.”

“Just saying it.  No cause to take on.  It isn’t your time yet, that’s all.”

“And what if I never think it’s my time?  What then?”

“It will be,” she said softly.  “When the time comes, you’ll know it.”  (page 133)

Rinaldi had me hooked from the first page.  She tends to write strong female characters who are flawed but have the right intentions, and that describes Amelia perfectly.  She’s got spunk, but she’s a little insecure about her place in the war.  And Rinaldi brings the Civil War to life, showing how chaotic it was to not know from one day to the next whether the town was under the control of the Union or the Confederacy and how neighbors turned on one another due to the politics of the war.  It’s hard for Amelia to ignore the war when the soldiers come marching in and gunfire and hand-to-hand combat occur in the town square; the war is literally on her doorstep.

Amelia’s War packs a lot of information into less than 300 pages, but Rinaldi is great when it comes to pacing the plot, generating tension, and doling out information without overwhelming readers — which is helpful because the book is geared toward 10- to 14-year-olds, but even adults like me who don’t know a lot about the war will be entertained and informed.  Rinaldi covers everything from the ransom of Hagerstown in July 1864, the plight of former slaves, how young women fought as soldiers, the harsh conditions endured by the worn-down soldiers, and women’s rights to the difficulty of staying neutral when war rages all around you and how important it is to stick by your friends even when you don’t see eye to eye on certain things like war.  An author’s note at the end of the book helps readers separate the fact from the fiction.

The Civil War not only divided the country, but it also divided the people, pitting neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend.  It affected both men and women, young and old.  Amelia’s War emphasizes that young people can make a big difference and that history is full of ordinary people who did extraordinary things.  Rinaldi takes these lessons and transforms them into a thought-provoking story that exemplifies middle-grade historical fiction at its finest.  Best of all, Rinaldi knows that younger readers want stories with some substance and that they can handle tough subjects like war, and she crafts them in a way that appeals to readers of all ages.

Check out my reviews of other books by Ann Rinaldi:

Juliet’s Moon

Disclosure: I borrowed Amelia’s War from my local library. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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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.

Disclosure: I borrowed Juliet’s Moon from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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