From Publishers Weekly
The real-life Deborah Sampson's experiences dressing as a man for two years to serve as a soldier during the Revolutionary War form the foundation of Klass's (The Uncivil War
) provocative historical novel. The story starts with a terrific hook: hospitalized with yellow fever, the soldier/narrator known as Robert Shurtliff pretends to be dead to evade examination by the nurses: "Being buried alive [was] a terrible fate, but preferable to being discovered," claims the narrator, who has yet to disclose Shurtliff's real identity. As the grave diggers fight over Shurtliff's boots, a nurse realizes her patient is still alive, leading to a doctor's discovery that the patient is female. Bringing her to his home to recover in safety, he persuades her to write down her story. Readers then learn that Sampson was a "give-away child," passed into indentured servitude because her mother was unable to support her. Finally freed, she still feels hampered by the stringent restrictions placed on women and begins to disguise herself as a man. At times Sampson comes across as self-absorbed; it's Klass's telling use of details that brings this story to life. Ages 12–16. (Mar.)
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*Starred Review* The author’s note and chronology that close this novel give what little facts are known about the real Deborah Sampson: her penniless mother sold her into indentured servitude in 1768, during which time she educated herself, secretly learned to dress and act as a boy, and served in the Continental army for 17 months. Klass expertly fills in the gaps, drawing a portrait of a proud girl who, from her early fascination with Joan of Arc, becomes entranced with the idea of a real-life “heroine.” Sampson, who fights under the pseudonym Robert Shurtliff, is strong, brave, and witty, yet as scared as any 22-year-old woman would be living among soldiers who might very well kill her for the offense of wearing britches. Klass doesn’t shy away from the horrors of battle; she also is blunt regarding details young readers will wonder about, like how Sampson dealt with bathing, urination, and menstruation. What could have been a groan-worthy subplot—Sampson’s romantic yearnings for a fellow soldier—is given just the right notes of restraint and realism. An admirable accomplishment, and a strong candidate to ply alongside Anita Silvey’s I’ll Pass for Your Comrade (2008). Grades 6-9. --Daniel Kraus