From School Library Journal
Grade 7–10—In the summer of 1864, Louis Nolette, a 15-year-old Abenaki Indian from Canada, is living in New York when a Union recruiter convinces him that it's worth the bounty to join an Irish brigade marching from New York to Virginia. Bruchac fills the account of their battle-filled march with logistical and practical information about tactics, fortifications, and the daily life of soldiers, and some insight into Louis's family and past. Despite its setting, however, the text is remarkably devoid of conflict. Though he is the sole Indian in his regiment, Louis endures minimal chiding from his peers. Almost every battle scene is described in retrospect. Readers experience little action along with Louis, and no central plotline urges them forward. Fellow officers and soldiers are largely one-dimensional, and many characters (including an Irish sergeant, a woman dressed as a soldier, a captured Reb, and a member of a Negro unit) provide token wartime perspectives. Abe Lincoln, Indian General Ely Parker, Walt Whitman, and Clara Barton all make unnecessary appearances. Louis himself, who is predictably described as strong, silent, and valued for his animal-like hearing and vision, shows depth of character only in interactions with another Indian he meets along the march. He is ultimately rescued from a saw-happy field doctor by his mother, who has heard from "the trees" that he needs her. With an unconvincing resolution to an unremarkable narrative, this title will likely be used only by teachers needing a fact-filled supplement to Civil War lessons.—Riva Pollard, American Indian Public Charter School, Oakland, CA
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Fifteen-year-old Louis, an Abenaki Indian from Canada, enlists in the U.S. Army in 1864 and serves with New York’s Irish Brigade. Basing the main character on his great-grandfather, Bruchac takes readers close to the Civil War soldier’s reality, from grimy field hospitals, where the term sawbones was a horrifically accurate term for a doctor, to the grim battlefields, which experienced soldiers entered only after pinning the pieces of paper to their shirts that would identify their bodies. Although written in third person, the story includes Louis’ thoughts in italics, a device that brings readers closer to this laconic but sympathetic character. In lighter moments, Louis and his Mohawk friend, Artis, trade barbs, to the discomfort of fellow soldiers who misunderstand their brand of humor. Appended are an author’s note on his family history, another on the Irish Brigade, and a bibliography of source materials. A fine choice for readers who want war stories that include plenty of action, as well as reflection. Grades 7-10. --Carolyn Phelan