Posts Tagged ‘numbering all the bones’

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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