Book Quote:

“Many of the soldiers must have stolen food. I would have. If that little boy shooting people with his finger had an apple in his pocket, I would grab his wrist hard and make him give it to me. Of course, I’d wait until we were out of sight of everyone. I decide not to say anything about being hungry. I imagine the dead Confederates, so thick on the road that the Yankees said they could walk down the whole length of it without stepping on anything but dead Rebels.”

Book Review:

Review by Debbie Lee Wesselmann (NOV 29, 2009)

Set in the 1960s, Amanda C. Gable’s debut novel spans two pivotal times in American history: the Civil War and the century-later Civil Rights movement. Eleven year old Kat, a Civil War buff, finds herself on a sudden trip from Marietta, Georgia to Maine with her manic-depressive mother who has decided to start her own antiques store up north. At first, Kat believes that they are on vacation, but the signs are immediately evident to the reader: her mother is leaving her father. Not until days later does Kat discover that her mother intends for this move to be permanent. Kat, loyal to her mother as well as to those family members left behind, finds herself emotionally under siege.

Like many children of dysfunctional parents, Kat knows how to take charge when necessary, and she convinces her mother that the best places to buy antiques on their way north are in the smaller, back-route towns. Her mother acquiesces – she is all too happy to be cared for – and so she gives Kat the navigator job. Kat plots a route that takes them through the major battlefields of the Civil War, from Appomattox to Gettysburg, enabling her to imagine that she is a Confederate general taking charge of the troops. This fantasy cast in another time provides a coping mechanism for the young girl as her mother’s actions become less and less reliable and Kat is forced into a caretaker role. It also acknowledges on a subconscious level that she cannot win, no matter how resourceful or brave or cunning she is. Although the “campaign” is doomed on one level – one cannot run from the past – it provides a unique opportunity for Kat to discover her own independence and some truths about her mother.

Author Gable creates a convincing eleven-year-old point-of-view that is both observant and yet not fully aware of the subtleties of the adult world. The mother-daughter journey, even though it makes Kat more vulnerable to dangers, fosters the innate strength that Kat harbors, thanks in part to a better role model, her Aunt Laura, who appears as a strong, intelligent presence in flashbacks. Even in the midst of fantasy, Kat is more realistic than her mother ever will be.

The Confederate General passages are often clever mixes of Civil War history and glimpses into the more private civil war between Kat and her mother; however, these brief passages are the least compelling aspect of the novel, as they do not add much to our understanding of either the girl or the war. More successful are Kat’s exploration of battlefields and the stories they hold. The strangers she encounters at these sites, people who are equally drawn to this part of American history, compose a portrait of a country in flux as the politics of the sixties set the stage for major changes. In addition to mention of civil rights and the continuing division between North and South, another coming “war” is hinted at: the Women’s Rights Movement. After all, Kat casts herself as a female general, and those who protect and educate her are all feisty, intelligent, and resourceful women.

This quiet portrait of a young girl prematurely on the cusp of adulthood and her relationship with her struggling mother reflects the larger battle of a country grappling with its own issues. The divisions between sides may have historical precedence, but, as Kat hopes, perhaps history is not always destined to repeat itself.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 6 readers
PUBLISHER: Scribner (August 11, 2009)
REVIEWER: Debbie Lee Wesselmann
AMAZON PAGE: The Confederate General Rides North
EXTRA Reading Guide
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another Feisty 11-year-old:

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Brady


Civil War Fiction:

The Wolf Pit by Marly Youmans

Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles


Civil Rights fiction:

Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund


November 29, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Family Matters, Literary, Reading Guide, US South

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