A Light in the Storm

The only reason I’ve waited so long to review this book is because honestly? I hated it.

A Light in the Storm: The Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin, Fenwick Island, Delaware, 1860, Karen Hesse, 1999.

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It’s an interesting story, I suppose. Delaware has got to be one of the most boring states in America, so its’s nice that they got thrown a bone of a DA book. Unfortunately, it’s boring and also irritating. This is a classic “I’m not like other girls!” book, which is one of the bugaboos that I harp on most frequently. For some reason I was absolutely obsessed with lighthouses as a kid, so I should have been all over this book, but even as a kid I found it vaguely irritating.

Amelia’s father is the lighthouse keeper on their island, so they live an isolated life from everyone else in town, and it’s abundantly obvious that her parents do not have a good marriage. Her mother is miserable on the island, while her father and Amelia both love it out there. And more importantly, her mother is ardently for slavery, while Amelia and her father are against it. So already the house is tense.

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In My Father’s House

Before we get started, let’s look at the cover of this book that perfectly encompasses everything all 90s historical fiction was about: clothes, and wars going on in the distance in soft-focus. And it was a good call by the cover artist to go with 90s hair instead of period-appropriate 1860s hair, because it is one era that has not translated well.

In My Father’s House, Ann Rinaldi, 1993.

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This is a Deep Cut Ann Rinaldi—and I know I’ve complained about her before because the lustre really wore off quickly after I was no longer 12—but this one was better than some of the others I’ve reread. Partially because I, uh, don’t think I read this one as a kid? I didn’t remember a single thing and I feel like I might have, so I think I was reading this one for the very first time. My biggest problem with this book is that it’s boring. The whole thing feels like you’re driving towards some kind of major conclusion, but…there isn’t one. Besides the end of the war, I guess. (Should that be a spoiler? 152 years later?)

This book is one of many Rinaldi books based on a true story, and that’s the story of a man who owned the land that the first battle of the Civil War, First Manassas, was built on. He moved so he would never have to see another soldier again, and ended up moving to Appomattox, where the war was ended in his parlor. That is a true story and it’s one of history’s great coincidences, and would make for an excellent book. This is not that book. This is about Oscie Mason, the stepdaughter of Will McLean, the man in question. Unfortunately, Oscie is not a great character. She’s supposed to come off as plucky and responsible, but in reality she’s just kind of irritating.

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I Thought My Soul Would Rise And Fly

What the hell, I’ve now read this book twice with every plan of reviewing it, and then it just….fades out of my memory. Why? I enjoyed it! What’s wrong with me?

I Thought My Soul Would Rise And Fly: The Diary of Patsy, A Freed Girl, Mars Bluff, South Carolina, 1865, Joyce Hansen, 1997.


Seriously, I don’t know why I keep thinking I’ve already finished reviewing this book! I have not. And it’s quite good! And on a side note, the audiobook of this is also very good—the reader is excellent. If you can get past the weirdness of having the date and location read to you every thirty seconds, it’s great.

I digress ALREADY. Anyway, this book is very well-written and very touching, and one of the things I enjoy the most about it is that Patsy is disabled, but it’s not the focal point of the book like it is in Mirror, Mirror on the Wall. I mean, in fairness, that one was about a girl at a school for the blind, so it was baked right in, but still. Patsy here has a debilitating stutter and a limp, but it’s never the focus—it definitely informs her capabilities and affects her life, but it doesn’t hamper it unduly. It’s well done. Also notable about this book: since it’s about a freed slave, I thought the title was going to refer to her disappointment when freedom didn’t fix everything about her life. It doesn’t—it’s a line from a spiritual and it’s about joy. So there you go.

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A Desperate Road To Freedom

I always enjoy a good crossover book! I mean, this isn’t truly a crossover because no such thing exists, but if it did, this would be it. Also, this is just a good book, which helps.

A Desperate Road To Freedom: The Underground Railroad Diary of Julia May Jackson, Virginia to Canada West, 1863-1864¸Karleen Bradford, 2009.

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For starters, Lawrence Hill, who wrote The Book of Negroes, is one of the consulting authors listed in here, which is a pretty good sign that it’s going to be good. I’ve found that Karleen Bradford’s books have been a little bit hit-or-miss, but overall pretty solid, and if I had to rank them, I’d put this one at the top, even with its issues. Almost a quarter of this book takes place in the States, to start with, which is why I want to classify it as a crossover, if only such a thing existed. I mean, if I had my way the shelves would be jammed with quality historical fiction for kids and we wouldn’t need a crossover, but this is a book I’d like to see available on both sides of the border. So often in the States the story about the Underground Railroad goes “and then they went to Canada, the end,” which is not a particularly satisfying ending! And in Canada the story is usually “they came to Canada, and things were great, the end,” which is also not a particularly true ending. And that’s where this book comes into play.

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A Picture of Freedom

I have been putting off this book for a long time and I don’t know why! It was one of my favourites as a kid, despite its extremely depressing plot, almost entirely due to the fact that it has a Scrappy Underdogs Win plot (well, sort of) plus Love Against The Odds, which I am a sucker for and clearly have been ever since the age of ten.

A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, A Slave Girl, Belmont Plantation, Virginia, 1859, Patricia McKissack, 1997.


Patricia McKissack is a great author, and I love her writing, and I love that Dear America had her do three books (plus a Royal Diaries book!), but I just wish they had branched out to include some of the other fantastic YA writers of colour. Bigger, better question: why aren’t there more YA and children’s authors of colour out there? That is too big of a question to get into here, but I’ll settle for saying that Patricia McKissack is great and everything she writes is worth reading, and this is no exception.

I always felt kind of bad about the cover styling of this book, though. The cover portrait is from a Homer portrait, The Cotton Pickers, which is of two young black women picking cotton (duh), and it’s a lovely picture, but I feel like the detail in particular is a little….lacking? I mean, now that I’ve sat here examining it for a while I can see that the girl in question is wearing a high-necked dress, but at first glance the abstraction of the portrait leaves the cover looking a little bit on the drab side. Maybe I’m crazy. Am I crazy? Look and tell me.

Also, if I’m not mistaken, I wonder if the name “Clotee” is derived from “Clothilde?” In a sort of roundabout, Southern-accented, slave-name kind of way? Feel free to tell me I’m insane, I’m just spitballing wondering now.

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When Will This Cruel War Be Over?

If I’m going to complain about him, I may as well go for my Barry Denenberg completion badge.

Book: When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson, Gordonsville, Virginia, 1864.  Barry Denenberg, 1996.


I have never figured out why this is considered one of the classics of the Dear America books, other than it was a fairly early one, dealt with the losing side of the Civil War, and probably consequently wound up being used in several school curriculums. Emma is such a drip that it’s difficult to get through, which is saying something for a book that’s only 152 pages long.

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Emily of the Wild Rose Inn

I have no memory of this book, but it’s a Civil War book so I imagine it’s going to be a great big bundle of presentism and irritating bits about race all wrapped up with a poorly-thought-out romance arc.

Book: Emily of the Wild Rose Inn.


At the beginning, we learn that Emily Mackenzie is the current sixteen-year-old resident of the Wild Rose Inn, as is the sixteen-year-old Lucy Sykes, a black girl who is Emily’s best friend slash foster sister. Apparently a scarlet fever killed both Emily’s mother and Lucy’s parents when they were three, although exactly how Lucy came to live with them is not made clear.

They’re out sailing, as is Micah Handy, the current Handy son, who seems to be just as arrogant as the rest of the Handy clan. Although the Handy’s inn seems to have experienced a rapid turnaround, since they’re doing quite well now, and Micah is out in his own sailboat showing off to some other girls. Emily is apparently not the sailor she thinks she is, since the boom clocks her and knocks her right into the water. Lucy rescues her and their talk turns to abolition, as people frequently do when they have nearly drowned, and they see a flag back at their inn signaling that they’re needed at home. I’m sensing a theme here that 16-year-old girls are not keen on doing their damn work.

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