Here’s a book that I loved so much as a young teen that my copy was ragged and dog-eared and unfit for donation when I grew up. I cannot explain why I liked it so much now.
Book: Katherine, Heart of Freedom. Cameron Dokey, 1997.
This is the first of a four-book series called “Hearts and Dreams,” which tells you exactly how awful they’re going to be. I will note that on the back of it, it says “Boston 1776,” and on the very first page, it says “Boston, 1773.” Good communication between the book assembler and chief editor.
Anyway, as we start, Katherine (or “Kit” as will become apparent) is reading a newspaper and we learn that Kit is an ardent patriot and her mother is “passionately devoted to all things English.” Which does make sense as she is from England, I suppose. You can tell right off the bat that this is going to be one of those books where Loyalists are simple-minded, deluded, or otherwise blind to see the obvious charms of revolution.
Anyway, Kit’s mother comes raging in to yell at her for not knitting as she should be, and berate her a bit about not being enough like her older sister. We get to see again the extremely obvious and tired trope of “Girl does not want to be married and is not like other girls, wants to be out seeking adventure, is no good at feminine and domestic tasks because those are useless.” Also we get a little primer on how Kit “didn’t even look like a young lady…Her chestnut brown hair was soft and shiny….Her blue eyes could be full of laughter….worst of all was the fact that Kit towered over her mother and sister.” O, the horror of being a tall blue-eyed brunette with piles of shining hair!
It turns out that Kit’s mother bears a grudge against her husband for spoiling Kit and treating her like a son, although Kit thinks her father is daring and dashing and a great adventurer. But even she admits that “her father’s great adventure must have been her mother’s worst nightmare. When Kit was just eleven and Elizabeth fourteen, her father had gambled away almost everything the family owned. Only a midnight flight through the streets of London had saved them all from the Fleet Street debtors prison.”
Well, I’m beginning to see why Kit’s mother is so angry at her father and why she’s passionate that Kit makes a good marriage! Considering that a good marriage was probably the single most important thing parents could do to ensure their daughter would have a safe economic future, I cannot fault her for this.
Kit’s father opened a coffeehouse and stocked it with newspapers, attracting plenty of customers, and five years later is “one of the most successful men in the Massachusetts Bay colony.” Which is pretty damn impressive for A) a man who owns a coffeehouse and B) who has only lived there five years.
Kit’s mother storms out and tells her to light the lamp in the front window, and while she is staring out at the street, she hears a commotion of people chasing a man, and she inexplicably opens the door and beckons him in. Up the stairs they go, into her bedroom, and she watches from her window as the pursuers give up and wander away. Uh, they don’t seem to be particularly invested in chasing him. The strange young man declares “I have my freedom. And it’s all because of you,” and pulls Kit into his arms. What is wrong with the people in this book?
He apologizes and tells her he’ll run out the back door and she can forget about him, and they banter a little bit about newspapers and flirt a bit. She tells him that her name is Katherine, but before she can tell him that her name is Kit, her mother comes looking for her and Kit has to quickly usher him to a back window and down an apple tree. He gives her a silver button off his coat, and says if she needs him, to take it to the proprietor of the Silver Coin coffeehouse, which just so happens to be the one Kit’s father owns. What a coincidence. And his name is William Kelly, but his friends call him “Bold Will.” Nerds.
The next day Kit goes to visit her sister, who tells her sensibly that their mother just wants to see her safely married, and Kit confesses that she doesn’t want to get married but to go and have adventures. Elizabeth gets in some shade at her sister by saying that she too reads the papers, even if she is just a simple housewife, and Elizabeth patiently explains the entire tea and tax situation to Kit. Uh, maybe Kit shouldn’t be quite so proud of herself of reading all those papers if she isn’t sure what’s going on. Elizabeth also explains in excruciating detail how Parliament makes laws, and how unfair it is that they have no representation, and Kit is just flabbergasted that her quiet sister has such patriot leanings. Also, apparently Elizabeth and her husband “are equals,” which is remarkably forward for 1773.
When Kit gets home, she finds a pile of British soldiers in her house questioning her mother, who is livid that they are accusing her family of harbouring some Patriot traitor. Apparently this Bold Will person is a former office who has been running around stealing arms and ammunition for the Patriot cause. But the accuser happens to be the owner of a rival coffee house, the soldiers buy her story (and mention along the way that they don’t even know what the guy looks like—they just expect to catch him in the act—look, I know this was a time before cameras, but like…presumably if he was an officer he would have served with a whole damn bunch of men who would have been able to, you know, DESCRIBE HIM) and leave. Kit’s mom freaks out and then freaks out again when her husband gets home and accuses Kit of being exactly like her father.
The next day Kit goes back to visit her sister and says that she has to go to the coffeehouse to arrange a visit with Will (I cannot call him “Bold Will” because that is too stupid for words), but she has to dress as a boy to do it. So she talks Elizabeth into letting Kit have a suit of Elizabeth’s husband’s old clothes, dresses up, and flits off. At the coffeehouse her own father doesn’t recognize her, which I find hard to believe since everybody talks all the time in the first six chapters about how Kit is the spitting image of her father. She asks for Will with the silver button, but he isn’t there, so Kit sits down with a different man who is also allegedly friends, and another two dandies. One of whom is named Nathaniel and is clearly the designated asshole here, because he points out that it’s dangerous to just blatantly trust people, and even though he’s supposed to be the Jerk he’s quite right.
Kit says that she can’t possibly give her message to anyone but Will, and Peter, their leader, says that in that case Kit will just have to go along with them. Kit freaks out and shoves the table at the men, dashes into the street, and then sees that the other men have followed her to the door. Rather than just run, she “lowered her head and ran straight at Nathaniel. Her head connected solidly with his stomach.” Why? Why is that “instinct?” Because it seems like a weird instinct for a teenage girl to have, just saying.
A month goes by where nothing really happens except Kit hangs around the house panicking constantly until her mother gets sick of it and sends her out to the market with the servant, Hannah. Hannah steps into the cheesemonger for a moment and then, of course, Will appears from nowhere and tells Kit “Look at me.” He’s quite angry with her for not telling him that she was the daughter of the owner of the Silver Coin, which seems to be a bit of an overreaction since when he was telling her all that secret-signal business he was also in the middle of fleeing some pursuers and didn’t have a lot of time for detailed explanations.
Then! He tells her that he had her house watched, tells her to take his arm like nothing is wrong, and takes her around the market while telling her about how they didn’t trust the boy who came to the coffeehouse. This is also creepy as hell. She tells Will that she was actually trying to warn him that all these British soldiers were after him, and he’s all “Whaaaat??? Soldiers after ME???” like he’s never heard of such a thing, and then suddenly just like that, everything is sunshine and roses and Kit’s falling in love with him. They banter a bit about their hearts and freedom and garbage like that and then Kit goes home, all fluttery.
The following week Kit’s father comes home and announces he has a new business partner who Just So Happens to be Will. So Will comes over to dinner with her family, James and Elizabeth, the Hardwickes who accused Kit’s family of being Patriots, and generally behaves like a model of propriety. Kit gives him a tour of the house while having a very quiet discussion of what the hell he thinks he’s doing, and Will caresses her hands and kisses her and then asks if she can reach that mysterious boy she knows that night. I’m not 100% convinced Will is only interested in this boy for his, uh, information, if you know what I’m driving at.
Kit gets all dressed up in her boy clothes and goes to the coffeehouse that night and gives the secret signal. Look, I’m sure Kit makes a very fine boy and all, but I’m doubting her disguise is so absolute that her father and this guy who’s keen on her are both magically incapable of seeing who it is. Kit is there with Peter, the leader, Nathaniel the dandy, Will, who I’m guessing is the brains of the operation, Robert, the big guy, and they all interrogate her a little bit on things like her name. She blurts out “Kit,” before Will knows her only as Katherine, and clearly she didn’t think this plan out very well if she didn’t even come up with a fake name beforehand. And there are also two identical twins, Ephraim and Ezekiel, who clearly can’t be very important as they’re just shoehorned in later.
They head down to the wharf, where it’s foggy and cold, and the plan is evidently to steal a bunch of rifle cartridges from a warehouse and move them to a warehouse next door owned by a patriot. This is it. That is the brilliant plan. Apparently, no one will think of looking so close. Kit’s job is to be The Diversion, which is a young apprentice who got lost just before curfew and is now wandering around the docks sobbing in terror. Uh, sure. I see everyone in this plot is throwing the Idiot Ball around hard. The warehouse men open the door to Kit, who cries “I’m frightened,” and then Robert socks the dude in the head and ties him up. The twins start carting ammunition next door and Kit runs out to swap with Nathaniel, who is keeping watch, and while she’s just standing there on the pier she hears the sound of oars. When the boat heaves into view it’s full of redcoats, and Kit’s amazing idea is to leap into the boat, causing everyone in it to panic and flip the boat. But Kit can’t swim, which is probably something she should have considered before leaping into the water all willy-nilly.
She claws her way up onto the boat and then manages to swim to the wharf (I don’t know, either) where Nathaniel hauls her out of the water and brings her back to the coffeehouse, and then accuses Kit of being a spy. See what I said about the Idiot Ball? Will, who seems to be the decision-maker of the group, asks Kit for a full recounting, and Nathaniel says (understandably) that it’s a stupid story and what’s more likely is that Kit was signaling the boat and fell in. “Nobody forgets they can’t swim.” Nathaniel is still freaking out and accusing her of being a spy, which is being to invoke The Lady Doth Protest Too Much, and then stomps out.
The following week, Kit is recovering from her ordeal in the water and making candles with her mother and contemplating how if Kit were to be arrested, the house would probably be seized and her mother would lose everything. Again. Kit blurts out how she’s sorry she’s such a trial and she knows her mother doesn’t love her, and her mother is basically like “What the hell? Of course I love you, you just drive me insane,” and Kit promises to try more. It’s a very heartwarming scene, and Kit offers to take some of the candles over to her sister’s so her mother doesn’t have to do it. But she immediately screws everything up again by going to the wharf instead of coming home again, where Will appears as if by magic. They flirt a bit and Will invokes the classic, #1 Most Hated Line in Literature, “You’re not like other girls.” Ugh. Kit goes “Well, no,” and Will continues digging himself in an irritating hole with “I’m glad you’re not like other girls.” Thanks, internalized misogyny, not of the Revolutionary period, but of the late 90s! They flirt a little bit more and Will asks her to contact “the boy.”
The new plan is to steal a bunch of gunpowder before the waiting period on the tea ships in the harbour expires, because everyone will be paying attention to the ships but not to anything else. Will says they have to do it then because he’s going to be heading to a different town, and the rest of the patriots bitch that he really shouldn’t be running off when they’re busy there. Kit’s father comes in at this juncture and says he wants to be part of the adventure, too, so clearly he hasn’t learned much from his last little adventure gambling away his family’s home. Will denies him, but Kit is all in, even after learning that her father is far more concerned with his own adventure than the safety and security of his family. Kit’s dad is kind of a jerk.
Anyway, on the day of the raid, Will comes by to visit Kit-the-girl and tell her that he’s leaving town, and you know, I don’t think he’s sounding like a great prospect to be a co-owner of the coffeehouse if he’s going to be running off all the time. Kit’s dad rushes in all wet and charred and gasps that someone has just set fire to the coffeehouse. He packs off his wife, Kit, and their servant to Elizabeth’s house, where Kit complains of a headache and goes back to her own home where the patriots are having a meeting. (Question: Did Kit take her boys’ clothes with her? Or go back dressed as a girl, change clothes there, and expect no one to notice?)
Nathaniel continues to accuse Kit of being a traitor, and Will continues to say that they have no proof, and Nathaniel says they can just ask Kit’s father. (Kit, how on earth did you not think this through?) He unsurprisingly says no, his daughter and son-in-law don’t have a young male servant, and Nathaniel says of course they don’t, Kit is clearly a “wealthy loyalist brat,” and grabs his hands to show them off. When Will sees the telltale scar on Kit’s palm, he tells Ezekiel to take her upstairs and lock her into her own bedroom. While she watches them leaving the house, she sees Nathaniel’s red hair and remembers him as one of the British soldiers hunting down Will that first night they met.
Robert comes bursting back into Kit’s room along with the twins and Kit’s father, and they wait for the others after being set upon at the warehouse. Robert points out that Kit had no idea what the plan was for that evening and couldn’t possibly have betrayed them, and it must have been one of the others. Kit tells them it was Nathaniel, and everyone else says she’s lost her mind, and Kit comes clean to her father about who she is. (Do you see what I said about the Idiot Ball?) Everyone is just utterly shocked, shocked that Kit is really a girl, and they’re all raving about what a phenomenal disguise it is when Peter comes in and tells them about how Will was taken away by a bunch of Loyalists, and Kit’s new plan is for them to all dress as Indians and rescue him.
Kit dresses in her girls’ clothing and the other men dress as Indians (How? Where do they get the costumes?) and they head out to the warehouses. Kit’s excellent plan, as per usual, is to begin shrieking and appeal to the better nature of the warehouse guards, and when they open the door for her she launches her way in and finds—who woulda thunk it—Nathaniel. She begins playacting “oh, Nathaniel, when I heard you had been captured” blah blah blah and weeping and wailing and carrying on, and saying “You only told me you were the leader of a patriot band to get information out of me!” The British soldiers are a bit taken aback at this information, Kit sobs and tells them they’re engaged, and on her signal the other patriots barge into the warehouse. A fight ensues, where Nathaniel grabs Kit and holds her hostage. But because this is a teen romance novel, the patriots win, of course, and head down to the wharf to see where the tea ships are being raided.
On the wharf, Kit and Will confess their love to one another and Will asks her to marry him even if he has to go away for a while. She accepts, of course, and Will gives her his tricorn hat. She sews the silver button onto it and puts it in her hope chest to wait for Will to come back to her so they can live happily ever after.
Rating: B-. Well, part of that is the nostalgia factory (oh, how I loved, loved, loved this book as a kid and thought it was the world’s most romantic story!), and part of that is that it’s a fairly well-written, competent story. It’s a pretty typical clothing-swap-romance, but it’s perfectly serviceable and charming without being overwrought for a teen audience. The attitudes the characters express are modern, sure (“our marriage will be one of equals!”) but it isn’t as jarring as some other novels. A serviceable, if not outstanding, teen romance.