As the story moved between Baltimore and Pennsylvania, with the massing of troops and the staging of battles, the training of men and the searching for informants, it grew more and more interesting. There was a division between the colonists who supported Washington and the Continental Army and the loyalists who defended Great Britain and the crown. Some supported independence, some the royal family.
Although the characters, Ben and Josh, who moved the story toward its conclusion were not real, the historic figures who fought the battles were. The spies and traitors were real; The Maryland Regiment with Major Gist was real. The battle in Brooklyn was real.
So, the novel is more than a story of Washington, it is a novel about bravery and equality, justice and liberty for all. It is about independence, about love of country and the courage to fight for and defend it. It also highlights the danger that exists of treason, betrayal and deception.
The British are portrayed as brutal, dishonest, arrogant and cruel. The way they waged war and the men they hired for their lack of decency, as in the mercenaries and their spies, seemed to be about greed. Everyone had a price.
War is so ugly; there is so much sacrifice, but the author forces the reader to admire the bravery of the soldiers who were naïve and unaware of what was to come in the days after they enlisted. They thought they would be like policemen, but they were forced to become soldiers and to fight for their lives and their countrymen’s freedom.
When I first began reading the book, I thought the author wasn’t sure if he was writing to the middle grade student or the young adult. Although the subject matter seemed geared to the adult and there was some crude language which I thought was unnecessary, the early dialogue seemed to be written for the middle grade. It was a bit contrived and corny. Some books are not sure what they want to be and this one may be that kind of a book. It feels somewhere between middle grade and young adult, but not quite either one. Content is geared for older students, but the presentation feels a bit younger, especially for the first ¾’s of the book. Perhaps it would be better to call it a crossover that would please both audiences.
I also felt that the demographic picture of the novel, with the two fictional young men, one white, Joshua Bolton and one free black, Ben Wright, perhaps did not ring true. Both men viewed each other as brothers which was perhaps a bit idealistic. The mothers were friends, as well, and it didn’t ring that true because the novel takes place in a time when slavery still existed, although it was not practiced in the north where the children were raised. Still, racism was alive and well then, and the character Ben experienced it. His behavior was depicted as exemplary, and that too seemed a bit contrived, as he was made the model of behavior. In his shoes, I might have reacted more strongly to many offenses, at least emotionally. The relationship between the mothers was also not clearly defined, as well. I felt that on the one hand, the author tried to minimize racial differences and on the other to magnify them in certain moments. The presentations competed with each other.
However, as the book moves on, the friendship the boys share seems genuine as they share a common sense of loyalty and love for each other. In a perfect world, such friendships could have existed then.
The last ¼ of the novel is riveting. The re-imagined Battle of Brooklyn seems especially realistic. The author has put the reader directly onto the battlefield, complete with the war cries, the fighting, the suffering of the injured, and the dead. The bravery exhibited by the young men in battle as they fight for their freedom is laudable, and hopefully, the kind of dedication that readers will want to imitate. It is hard to imagine such devotion today, though, from the young men and women who have been brought up in a time when they do not believe they will ever have to really engage in warfare or even face conflict. Everyone gets a participation trophy, so everyone is happy. As a result, the young find it easy to criticize their country without realizing the hard fought battles that took place, along with the sacrifice of so many, that went unsung and unrewarded to provide them with the good life they have.
At first, I questioned the idea of a fictional presentation of the history, but learned later that little was known about Washington’s engagement in Brooklyn. I also came to believe that the main idea of the book was not necessarily the history, but rather the philosophy of fighting for a cause, of loving your country and what it gave you, of respecting your freedom and wanting to maintain it without the huge arm of a government weighing down on your life, of loyalty vs. betrayal. The framework regarding the battles and the generals was authentic, as were the British and their spies. There was no shortage of traitors. Everyone had a price, be it money or glory.
I thought the book began like a fairy tale, with a kind of hokey conversation between Martha and George Washington, but it ended with a powerful message about war, with its need for loyalty, nationalism and civil rights. It sent a message about liberty for all that cannot and should not be ignored.
*I wondered at the use of the word dreck which is derived from German and Yiddish and which didn’t come into common use until much later in the 20th century. However, there were Hessians, brutal mercenaries from Germany engaged in the fighting, and perhaps that is why the author chose to use it. I received this book from Meryl Moss Media Relations.