by Amanda Gable
Scribner, August 2009
Summary in a Sentence:
Eleven-year-old Katherine McConnell, who is fascinated by stories of the Civil War generals, jumps at the chance to take a trip with her mother and drive north of their Georgia home in search of antiques, battlefields, and historic sites, but each stop causes Kat to question her understanding of war and her faith in her mother.
I had never heard of this book before attending the Southern Festival of Books in nearby Nashville last October. I love my yearly trek to Tennessee's capital to discover new authors each year, and Amanda Gable is quite a discovery, indeed. I found it very easy to relate with protagonist Katherine McConnell since I also grew up in the South as a fairly dorky, history buff kinda kid who had some conflicting emotions about the South's checkered past in the areas of slavery and civil rights. This book tackles these subjects and more with aplomb.
As Katherine and her mother travel further North and Katherine begins to sense that something is not quite right, Katherine uses her love of Civil War history to cope with her personal difficulties and misgivings. The author conveys this in italicized sections where Katherine pretends to be a general fighting her own war, which is what Katherine is essentially doing. Katherine is fighting a personal war over her ideas about what it means to be a Southerner, but she is also fighting a familial war with her mother who has been overtaken with her mental illness. Also going on in the novel, which is set in 1968, are the political and cultural events surrounding civil rights that seemed to reach a fever pitch that year.
One aspect of the novel I particularly loved was Katherine's love of books, especially the biographies of famous people in American history. There is one particular set that I read as a child; my favorite was the biography of Florence Nightingale.
For fans of Southern fiction, as well as those interested in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the effects of mental illness on families.
~ This book counts towards the Random Reading Challenge ~
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