Keturah by Lisa T. Bergren

Disclaimer: Keturah, by Lisa T. Bergren, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

In 1772 England, Lady Keturah Banning Tomlinson and her sisters find themselves the heiresses of their father’s estates and know they have one option: Go to the West Indies to save what is left of their heritage. Although it flies against all the conventions, they’re determined to make their own way in the world. But once they arrive in the Caribbean, conventions are the least of their concerns. On the infamous island of Nevis, the sisters discover the legacy of the legendary sugar barons has vastly declined—and that’s just the start of what their eyes are opened to in this harsh and unfamiliar world. Keturah never intends to put herself at the mercy of a man again, but every man on the island seems to be trying to win her hand and, with it, the ownership of her plantation. She could desperately use an ally, but even an unexpected reunion with a childhood friends leaves her questioning his motives. To keep her family together and save the plantation that is her last change at providing for them, can Keturah ever surrender her stubbornness and guarded heart to God and find the healing and love awaiting her?

Rating: 3/5

I’m going to spend most of this review talking about the historical aspect of Keturah and my thoughts on Bergren’s presentation, and less time talking about what I normally talk about (plot, romance, and characterization). To me, the historical setting was the most interesting part of the book.

Keturah is unique in that it’s one of the first historical fiction I’ve read in a while where the main character is involved, in some way, in plantations and slavery. Commonly, historical fiction (especially of the YA and middle grade variety that I read) set in the South during the Civil War or before all have main characters that eschew slavery, even those that live in the South. It’s almost as if authors believe that they are condoning slavery if their main characters own slaves, so instead they have their protagonists be vehemently against it. There’s nothing wrong about that, obviously, but it stretches the bonds of historical setting a little bit to have a Southern protagonist be so opposed to slavery (obviously there were people in the South who opposed slavery, but since the majority supported it, it makes logical, historical sense that the average person would also support it).

Bergren, however, does not shy away from the topic at all. Keturah keeps slaves and buys slaves, and though she treats them well enough, they’re still slaves. Keturah herself has some unpleasant moments where she clearly views herself as superior, especially in regards to Mitilda, the housekeeper of her father’s estate (there’s other factors influencing her behavior and thoughts towards Mitilda, but it’s still a little shocking how quickly her mind turns to race and class in that moment). Yet, she’s disturbed at the sight of a slave market and is quick to want justice when her slaves are terrorized by the neighbors. She’s abhorred at the violence towards and ill treatment of slaves, yet owns slaves herself.

There’s clearly a difference between Keturah and her neighbors, as she neither harms her slaves nor, in general, views them as “other.” She hires a free black man (who himself owns slaves—something that’s historically accurate) as her overseer, despite the island’s censure of the act. Her actions are clearly true to history (Frederick Douglass was taught to read by the wife of the person who bought him; there were slave owners who were kind to their slaves), and I was fascinated by Bergren’s decision to frame it this way.

It did bother me, however, that despite the strength of Keturah’s Christianity, especially towards the end, there was never a moment when Keturah even thought about the idea of freeing her slaves. Obviously, in terms of setting, that wouldn’t have worked very well. Yet all she does is think about how she should be nicer to Mitilda. I’m not going to argue the fact that Christians owned slaves, and excused it with (terrible) interpretations of Scripture, but it galled me that Bergren would try and show that being a good Christian (or being a good person) means simply that you’re nice to slaves that you own, with no thoughts about freedom, equality, or equity.

The historical setting of Keturah is fascinating, and might be incredibly divisive due to the main character’s ties with slavery. As for the rest of it, the pacing dragged a lot in places (they were at sea way too long), the romance was average, and Keturah was a mediocre protagonist. The merits of discussion for this book, though, are golden.

Warnings: Some violence, death, slavery, leering, very subtle hints at domestic abuse and possibly rape.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here:  


1964 Newbery Medal: It’s Like This, Cat by Emily Neville

It’s Like This, Cat, by Emily Neville, was published in 1963 by HarperCollins.

Dave Mitchell is fourteen and growing up in the midst of the variety and excitement of New York City. In this quiet, reflective, and humorous story of a boy’s journey toward adulthood, Emily Neville captures the flavor of one kind of New York boyhood—the sights and sounds of Gramercy Park, Coney Island, the Fulton Fish Market, the Bronx Zoo, the stickball games played in city streets, the fascinating mixture of nationalities and eccentrics that give the huge metropolis so much of its flavor and excitement. But most of all the author tells a realistic tale of Dave’s affection for a stray tomcat, his comradeship with a troubled nineteen-year-old boy, his first shy friendship with a girl, and his growing understanding of his father as a human being and not just a parent.

Rating: 3/5

It’s Like This, Cat captures the 1960s feel perfectly (as one might expect, given that it was written then…so, okay, maybe not the best way to describe it), along with the sights and sounds of “old” New York. It’s funny…I really don’t like NYC (not a city fan, especially huge cities), but reading about it in the past makes me feel incredibly nostalgic. Of course, I also love stories that take place in the 1940s-1960s, so maybe that also has to do with it.

The book is “slice of life,” though not as isolated as these sorts of book can sometimes get. The book is united with the thread of Cat and of Tom, the teenager Dave stumbles across with the troubled home life. Meeting Tom causes Dave to think about his own home life and, specifically, about his father. The book is a superb story about a father/son relationship—and there’s also lots in there about family, too, and how not all families are alike (even if a child might think so).

Perhaps the biggest flaw, for me, was that there wasn’t anything truly remarkable that stood out to me. I enjoyed the story and I enjoyed Dave’s growth as a character. However, there wasn’t anything in particular that made me stand up and say, “Yes, this is why this book should be read.” That doesn’t mean I think it shouldn’t be read; it simply means this isn’t the first book that would immediately jump to my mind if I wanted someone to read a book set in 1960s New York.

It’s Like This, Cat has some delightful moments, and overall I enjoyed the father/son relationship as well as all the family moments. However, the book was lacking in memorability and “stand-outness.” I’m not sure I would remember it in a month, to be honest.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

“Take care,” [Mom] says. “No fights.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll stay out of fights,” says Tom quite seriously.

We go down the stairs, and Tom says, “Your mother is really nice.”

I’m sort of surprised—kids don’t usually say much about each other’s parents. “Yeah, Mom’s O.K. I guess she worries about me and Pop a lot.”

“It must be pretty nice to have your mother at home,” he says.

That kind of jolts me, too.

You can buy this book here:

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende, was published in 1983 by Doubleday (1979 in Germany).

This epic work of the imagination has captured the hearts of millions of readers worldwide since it was first published more than a decade ago. Its special story within a story is an irresistible invitation for readers to become part of the book itself….The story begins with a lonely boy named Bastian and the strange book that draws him into the beautiful but doomed world of Fantastica. Only a human can save this enchanted place—by giving its ruler, the Childlike Empress, a new name. But the journey to her tower leads through lands of dragons, giants, monsters, and magic—and once Bastian begins his quest, he may never return. As he is drawn deeper into Fantastica, he must find the courage to face unspeakable foes and the mysteries of his own heart.

Rating: 4/5

The Neverending Story is a movie that I’ve heard referenced many times, especially in college. I’ve never seen it, and I had forgotten that the film was based off a book until I saw it at the library. I like fantasy, so I decided to give it a try.

The Neverending Story is a story-within-a-story, cleverly written with different colors of ink to represent two different worlds, and solely designed to have the reader imagine that they, like Bastian, are able to participate in Fantastica. Even the cover art was carefully chosen to match the description given in the book. It was quite clever, one of the more creative uses of the story-within-a-story trope that I’ve read. I feel like this is what Cornelia Funke was trying to get Inkheart to be like, except reversed (characters coming into the real world rather than humans going into the fantasy one).

I always enjoy protagonists who fluctuate a bit in likeability—like Johnny Tremain in Esther Forbes’s book of the same title. Bastian starts out as the passive protagonist, then switches to the active one—and along the way experiments with villainy as his power gets away with him. Ende does a remarkable portrayal of the corruption of power, as well as the way living too much in your imagination results in your real life slipping away from you.

There is some grand message to the whole book, of course, but I feel like it’s done rather well, without being laid on too thick. Either that, or it’s interwoven well enough that it doesn’t feel like it’s too much. Ende has a lot to say about imagination, and the role that the reader has in participating in the fantasy world, and the way readers shape stories.

The Neverending Story gets a little bloated at times—it’s a long book—but I enjoyed the character development, the way Ende visualizes the writing process and the role of the reader, and the adventure feel to the whole thing. Now, I guess I’ll have to watch the movie!

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“My life belongs to you,” said the dragon, “if you’ll accept it. I thought you’d need a mount for this Great Quest of yours. And you’ll soon see that crawling around the country on two legs, or even galloping on a good horse, can’t hold a candle to whizzing through the air on the back of a luckdragon. Are we partners?”

“We’re partners,” said Atreyu.

“By the way,” said the dragon. “My name is Falkor.”

You can buy this book here:

Like a River Glorious by Rae Carson

Like a River Glorious, by Rae Carson, was published in 2016 by Greenwillow. It is the sequel to Walk on Earth a Stranger.

Lee Westfall survived the dangerous journey to California. She found a new family in the other outcasts of their wagon train, and Jefferson, her best friend, is beginning to woo her shamelessly. Now they have a real home—one rich in gold, thanks to Lee’s magical ability to sense the precious metal in the world around her. But Lee’s Uncle Hiram has survived his own journey west. He’s already murdered her parents, and he will do anything to have Lee and her talents under his control. No one is safe. When he kidnaps her, she sees firsthand the depths of his depravity. Lee’s magic is changing, though. It is growing. The gold no longer simply sings to her—it listens. It obeys her call. Will that alone be enough to destroy her uncle?

Rating: 2/5

All my worries about a potential sequel to Walk on Earth a Stranger, a book that stood alone with little to carry into another book, came to fruition in Like a River Glorious, which is ultimately a pointless sequel that tells the same story as the first book, only without the going west part.

The only character change in this book is that Leah’s gold-seeking changes in depth and power. Otherwise, the characters are the same: Hiram is flatly evil, and little is revealed about his relationship to Leah’s parents or why he killed them (specifically, why he killed Leah’s mother, since it seems pointless to have done so. Carson reiterates over and over that women are powerless in the eyes of the law, so there’s really no reason for Hiram to have killed Leah’s mother. Rage, perhaps, at her apparent betrayal?). Jefferson is typical Love Interest Boy, meaning he’s uninteresting, and Leah spends most of the book being criticized for what other people are doing.

Speaking of the latter, Carson uses this book as a mouthpiece for her modernistic ideas of 1849, and spends the majority of the events making sure the reader knows exactly how Leah is responsible for the abuse of Native Americans and how she should feel terrible about it, and how people should feel guilty for owning land and never own land because it all belongs to the Native Americans.

By the way, Carson, I hope you’re practicing what you preach and don’t own any land yourself.

Also, wow, does she take some liberties with history. Some of it is explained away at the end in an author’s note (mostly consisting of “I wanted to bring this to light earlier than when it actually happened so it would fit my narrative”), but Carson conveniently left out the fact that women could actually own property at that time, despite the many, many times it’s stated to the contrary in the novel.

Highlighting the abuses of the time isn’t a bad thing, but filtering it through modernistic views is problematic. And regardless of accuracy of depiction, Carson’s constant preaching and guilt-tripping only caused me to want to never pick up the last book in the trilogy. I also can’t see what would be in a third book, since once again, everything is wrapped up neatly in this book.

Like a River Glorious reminded me of what I hate about young adult literature: the constant authorial preaching, the filtering of events through modern lenses, pointless romance, and the manipulation of historical data to fit one’s particular narrative. I have no desire to pick up the last novel in the trilogy, or read anything by Carson ever again.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

“Slow down,” I tell Olive. “You have to let the gold settle. Do you see it?”

“Where?” she asks.

All I mean to do is point, but it seems as though the flake lifts out of the water and sticks to my finger, just as if I called it. It’s the strangest feeling, like a static shock when it touches my skin.

You can buy this book here:

1975 Newbery Medal: M. C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton

M. C. Higgins, the Great, by Virginia Hamilton, was published in 1974 by Simon & Schuster.

M. C.’s family is rooted to the slopes of Sarah’s Mountain. His great-grandmother escaped to the mountain as a runaway slave, and made it her home. It bears her name, and her descendants have lived there ever since. When M.C. looks out from atop the gleaming forty-foot pole that his father planted in the mountain for him—a gift for swimming the Ohio River—he sees only the rolling hills and shady valleys that stretch out for miles in front of him. And M. C. knows why his father never wants his family to leave. But when M.C. looks behind, he sees only the massive remains of strip mining—a gigantic heap of dirt and debris perched threatening on a cliff above his home. And M.C. knows they cannot stay. So when two strangers arrive in the hills, one bringing the promise of fame in the world beyond the mountains and the other the revelation that choice and action both lies within his grasp, M.C’s life is changed—forever.

Rating: 2/5

I struggled to get engaged with M. C. Higgins, the Great. Very little actually happens, and the book has an almost sleepy tone to it, yet also a deceptively menacing tone, as well. I say “deceptive” because I kept expecting a dead body to show up, what with all the talk of gullies, tired people, and the feeling of dreadful anticipation that hovers over the events of the book.

 The book takes place over about three days of M. C.’s life, and I suppose is a good glance at a “day in the life” of a teenage boy who is worried about the spill heap threatening his home and fascinated by the strange girl that shows up and turns his world, briefly, upside-down. There’s some neighbor conflict, with the strange, possibly inbred Killburn family, but the overall conflict is clearly the danger on the mountain.

I could tell, while reading, how Hamilton conveys the threat of strip mining to people’s lives and homes while also emphasizing the family bonds that keep people in one place, regardless of danger. Yet, even though I could see it, the book didn’t make me feel it. I was monstrously bored throughout, and the agonizingly slow pace made it difficult for me to want to continue reading it.

I can see why M. C. Higgins, the Great, won the Newbery Medal. I can see why it’s considered a great book. However, I didn’t like it. It was slightly too all-over-the-place for me, but the biggest thing was simply that the book didn’t interest me. I also thought the ending was a little strange, in that I have no idea why M. C. thinks his solution would actually work. A great book, but not my cup of tea.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“There’s some girl out there,” M. C. said. “Saw her early, just walking along. Some new kind of a girl. And just now I saw something shining. But I don’t see it now. Don’t know if it’s the girl for sure. You have any protection against girls?” He laughed.

The dude smiled up at M. C. “Is she a pretty little thing with a back pack?”

“Sure, a green pack,” M. C. said. “You know her?”

You can buy this book here:

Phoebe’s Light by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Disclaimer: Phoebe’s Light, by Suzanne Woods Fisher, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Phoebe Starbuck has always taken care of her father—worrying enough for both of them, as he chases one whim after another. Now, for the first time, she’s doing what she wants to do: marrying Captain Phineas Foulger and sailing far away from Nantucket. As she leaves on her grand adventure, she takes two gifts from her father, but desires only one: her great-grandmother’s journal. The second gift? A “minder” in the form of cooper Matthew Mitchell (sic), a man she loathes. Phoebe soon discovers that life at sea is no easier than life on land. Lonely, seasick, and disillusioned, she turns the pages of Great Mary’s journal and finds a secret that carries repercussions for everyone aboard the ship, especially the captain and the cooper.

My rating: 4/5 

I wasn’t fond of the first book I read of Fisher’s, Anna’s Crossing, but to my pleasant surprise, Phoebe’s Light was a unique, interesting read. It tells two stories concurrently, that of Phoebe’s in 1767 and that of Mary’s in 1658 (through to 1661). The book gives much historical information about the founding of Nantucket, whaling, and the early history and beliefs of Quakers.

Mary’s story read a lot like a Dear America novel, which is perhaps why I was drawn to it over Phoebe’s story. It’s not that Phoebe’s story was uninteresting, it’s just that Mary’s did a much better job of drawing me in. It’s also the much more historical of the two, as it depicts the first settlers to Nantucket, their struggles, and their interaction with the natives on the island. I also appreciated Mary’s struggles and romantic plights more than I did Phoebe’s.

Phoebe’s story was also good, though again, I didn’t like it as much as Mary’s. I liked its uniqueness of plot, and while the romance was a little conventional, Fisher dealt with it in a very good way. There’s a tad too much time of Phoebe being sick at sea, but otherwise I thought the pacing was good, the mystery compelling, and the characterization well-developed.

My only major complaint is that Fisher falls into the same sort of pickle that Christian authors fall into when they’re trying to portray a complicated romance situation. I’ll try not to be too spoilery here, but, basically Phoebe’s situation makes it hard for Fisher to deliver the sort of “pure and innocent” vibe that a lot of Christian authors put on their female protagonists, so in order to keep that vibe, Fisher finagles and excuses and puts plot armor all over Phoebe so that by the end of the book, she still has that vibe. Fisher does it more realistically than some, but I think that sort of machination overall isn’t realistic, or true to what a lot of people experience today.

Beyond that, Phoebe’s Light lifted Fisher up in my eyes as an author. It was a compelling story, with an even more compelling “story-within-a-story,” the characters were good and well-developed, and it is one of the more unique books I’ve read from Revell.

Warnings: Some violence, death.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here:

The Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens (republished title The Shattered Lens), by Brandon Sanderson, was published in 2010 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia.

Alcatraz Smedry is on a mission to save the day! The boy with all the wrong Talents has a lot to prove and, as always, little time in which to do it. Ib this final adventure, Alcatraz faces an army of librarians—and their giant librarian robots—as they battle to win the kingdom of Mokia. If the Librarians win the war, everything that Alcatraz has fought so hard for could end in disaster. With his incredibly Talent for breaking things, some explosive teddy bears, and the help of his friends, Alcatraz must face the glass-shattering gigantic robots, an entire arm of evil librarians, and even his ow manipulative mother! But will he be able to save the kingdom of Mokia and the Free kingdoms from the wrath of the librarians before everything comes crashing down?

Rating: 3/5

Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens is a step-up from the too-short-yet-too-long Knights of Crystallia. The conflict is decently long, important things happen throughout the book, and the ending is suitably intriguing.

I like the deeper look at the Talents that Sanderson gives us in this book, starting with Aydee’s math Talent and ending with Alcatraz manipulating the Smedry Talents to fit his plan. It also makes one of the main events at the end that much more important. The Talents are the most interesting thing about the Alcatraz series, in my opinion, so I’m glad we got to explore more of their mechanics in this one.

Something I found interesting about the background of this book is that you can sense Sanderson’s rift with Scholastic coming. Not only does the blurb say that this is Alcatraz’s final adventure, even though the series has stated that there will be five, but the fifth book is published by a different publisher. Not to mention Sanderson’s dig at the ridiculous cover art of the series (probably my favorite joke besides the Wheel of Time inside joke). (By the way, I’m displaying the republished art in these posts since it’s so much better). I’m not sure of the details behind Sanderson’s break with Scholastic, but I know that at least the cover art issue is fixed with the fifth book (thank goodness), so the change is likely a good one.

I still wouldn’t say this series is my favorite of Sanderson’s; it’s funny, but lacking in depth, with shaky plot mechanics at times. However, I’m looking forward to seeing how Alcatraz manages in the next book, given the revelation at the end of this book, and Sanderson has never yet disappointed me in the long haul (perhaps in the short, but never the long).

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

A clanking sound came from behind us. I glanced over my shoulder.

No fewer than fifty Knights of Crystallia were rushing down the hallway in our direction.

“Gak!” I cried.

“Alcatraz, would you stop saying—” Bastille looked over her shoulder. “GAK!”

You can buy this book here:

2010 Newbery Medal: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, was published in 2009 by Yearling.

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, and who to avoid. Like the crazy guy on the corner. But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a kid on the street for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives, scrawled on a tiny slip of paper: I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. I ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter. The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message bringers her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

Rating: 4/5

When You Reach Me is a book that, after I finished it, I was surprised to look back and find that I liked it. I mean, while reading it, I was engaged in the story, and I had this overall positive impression throughout the book. So I suppose it’s not really so surprising that I enjoyed the book. But it is surprising that Stead could include such a strange turn of events in the plot and the entire premise and I still wound up enjoying the book despite its oddball reveal.

I don’t want to say too much, because it is such a strange and random revelation that saying it might make the novel seem cheap. It’s not—it’s a Newbery winner, after all—but a simple description or summary really doesn’t do it justice. I don’t know how I felt about the reveal, but Stead incorporates it in such a way that by the time it is revealed, I cared enough about the characters that I could roll with the punches.

Without the “surprise” of the novel, the story itself is delightful—a simple story about a girl growing up, trying desperately to fit into a changing environment and dealing with changing friends, rivalries, and odd and scary neighbors. Stead portrays nicely the changing dynamics of friendships as people grow older. Even though not too much development is given to the secondary characters, Miranda’s friends and family, they’re still interesting enough that her time spent with them seems meaningful. It’s also nice to see a rivalry story that isn’t over-the-top dramatic.

When You Reach Me has a bizarre reveal that actually works with the story as she developed it, so that even as strange as it was, it somehow seemed to fit with the story. It’s a unique sort of novel, and the main story itself, without the twist at the end, is good enough to warrant the Newbery medal, in my opinion. The twist doesn’t make the book better, but it certainly makes it stand out more.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Realistic, Science Fiction

I was named after a criminal. Mom says that’s a dramatic way of looking at things, but sometimes the truth is dramatic.

“The name Miranda stands for people’s rights,” she said last fall, when I was upset because Robbie B. had told me during gym that I was named after a kidnapper.

You can buy this book here:

Like a River by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Like a River, by Kathy Cannon Wiechman, was published in 2015 by Calkins Creek.

Leander Jordan and Paul Settles need to make changes in their lives. And what bigger change is there than leaving home and going off to war? When these very different teenagers enlist in the union Army they carry not only arms and ammunition but also deep-rooted and dangerous secrets they work hard to protect. Little do they know that when they finally meet in a Union hospital those dark secrets will be exposed with unexpected consequences.

Rating: 2/5

Like a River is the story of two teenagers, Leander and “Paul,” who join the Union Army during the Civil War. However, neither of the two really experience much fighting, and instead the novel is more of a depiction of a hospital and a prisoner-of-war camp than an account of Civil War battles. Leander gets injured and sent to a hospital. “Paul” (who is really Polly) gets captured and taken to Camp Sumter, now known as the Andersonville Historical Site, one of the most notorious Civil War-era prisoner-of-war camps.

I like that Wiechman shed light on some little known aspects of the Civil War, such as the Andersonville camp and the greatest maritime disaster in American history, the explosion and sinking of the ferryboat Sultana (overshadowed by John Wilkes Booth’s death), but her use of the dreaded “girl disguised as a boy” trope ruined the book for me. I understand that there is documentation of girls disguising themselves as boys and going to fight in the Civil War, but there was virtually no reason for Wiechman to have one of her protagonists be one. She was able to get a romance out of the book by doing so, and that’s about it. Polly could easily have been replaced with a male character and the same effect would have been given. She contributed nothing to the story by being a girl, besides being a vehicle for a historical note. I like my female characters to be stand-outs; I hate it when female characters are merely stand-ins for male characters. Maybe that’s not how everyone thinks, but that’s the way I prefer my female characters to be.

I liked the history aspect of Like a River, but I didn’t much like the characters and the way they were forced into a particular type of narrative. The book didn’t have to be a romance, but a stilted, forced one was present because Polly was there. In addition, I simply don’t like the main idea of women going to war—the idea does not sit right with me. Not to mention Polly could have easily been replaced with a male character and the same exact story could have been told.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: Violence, disease.

Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction

He held his breath and headed toward the growl. Slowly. Quietly. The growl grew louder. And a snort hunt onto the end of it. Leander nearly laughed out loud at his fear. He knew this sound. He heard it every night, lying in the tent beside Given, among the tents of other men. Snoring.

He found Twig asleep, leaning against a tree trunk.

Leander gently shook the man’s shoulder. “Twig, wake up. You’re on guard duty.”

You can buy this book here:

The Winter of Red Snow by Kristiana Gregory

The Winter of Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart, by Kristiana Gregory, was published in 1996 by Scholastic.

Eleven-year-old Abigail Jane Stewart records the despair and hope of the difficult winter between 1777-1778—when she witnessed George Washington readying his young soldiers on the frozen fields of Valley Forge.

Rating: 4/5

The Winter of Red Snow is the sort of Dear America book that I think about when I think of Dear America: the story of a young girl whose ordinary life is being touched by the historical events going on around her. This book is much less random than, say, Standing in the Light or even Look to the Hills (which was more pointedly about slavery than about any particular historical event), and the combination of historical event and fiction melds nicely. Kristiana Gregory is also quite experienced at writing Dear America books, so perhaps that also is the reason why I felt The Winter of Red Snow meshes better than other Dear America books.

I grew up near Philadelphia and visited Valley Forge, so The Winter of Red Snow touched the nostalgic part of my heart while reading. I thought Gregory hit a nice balance of the sort of awe and patriotism that Abigail might feel for the soldiers, coupled with the frustration and anger as the soldiers looted the homes around them for supplies. And while the story today might smack of a bit too much hero worship to some people, I think the depiction of George Washington and other famous historical figures and Abigail’s reaction to them are accurate for the time period.

The thing I perhaps most appreciate about the Dear America series, especially one so nicely melded as this one, is the combination of history and narrative that it gives. It’s so much easier to remember history when there’s a story attached to it, as opposed to random dates and names. Perhaps that’s why I know so much about history despite having stopped taking history classes after my sophomore year of college. I don’t remember much about what I learned in those classes, but I remember all the books I’ve read that describe the events that I learned about.

I’m very familiar with The Winter of Red Snow, both in terms of setting and the book itself, as it is one I read many times growing up. Perhaps that’s why I feel so favorably towards it (although those feelings pale in comparison to my two favorite Dear America books, Seeds of Gold (Gold Rush) and One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping (World War II)). I think that Gregory depicts the setting accurately, down to the reactions of the people and the descriptions of the hard winter of 1777-1778. I also think the story of Abigail integrates well with the historical event itself; it seems much more cohesive than other Dear America books.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Who are these dear children?” said one of the women coming over to greet us. She was about my height, extremely plump, and had a friendly, smiling face, though I must admit she was not at all pretty. (I did not like her wide nostrils nor the mole on her cheek.)

“Ma’am,” said Billy Lee, “these here are Missus Stewart’s girls, those that keeps your husband’s shirts, ma’am.”

This was Lady Washington!

You can buy this book here: