From School Library Journal
Gr 5-7-A seventh grader learns to accept the past in this well-intentioned first novel. Much to Riley Griffin's displeasure, his widowed mother has moved them to the small Vermont town where she was raised. Riley struggles to cope with the frequent appearances of her high school beau Sam, an outcast because he refused to fight in Vietnam; becomes friendly with two sisters who are abused by their parents; and researches an ancestor who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg. When Sam takes Riley on a trip to Gettysburg, the boy learns something about his ancestor that helps him understand Sam's actions. Ultimately, he learns that standing up for what one believes is difficult but admirable and that heroism is expressed in many different ways. The plot suffers from attempting to explore too many topics: Civil War, Vietnam War, pacifism, alcoholism, child abuse, shame, prejudice-to name just a few. While the setting is described well, the style of writing is awkward. The narrator's voice is inconsistent, although he is in many ways a typical seventh grader. The violent similes seem to conflict with the frequent Christian symbolism, which likens Sam to Jesus. For books about different manifestations of courage, try Louis Sachar's Holes (Farrar, 1998) or Jerry Spinelli's Wringer (HarperCollins, 1997).
B. Allison Gray, South Country Library, Bellport, NY
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Gr. 4-7. Twelve-year-old Riley Griffin dislikes everything about his new home in Sharon, Vermont: he's not happy in his grandfather's run-down house, no one seems eager to make friends with him, and the small town lacks many of the amenities he's used to. To complicate matters, his widowed mother is spending a lot of time with Sam, a local carpenter and childhood friend, who was dishonorably discharged from the army for refusing to fight in Vietnam. Sam tries to connect with Riley by taking up chess and encouraging Riley's interest in the Civil War, but the youth seems unable to get past what he sees as Sam's cowardice. Finally, during a trip to the battlefield at Gettysburg, Riley learns a secret about one of his own ancestors that helps him understand that sometimes just standing up for one's beliefs is an act of courage. Although set in 1980, this insightful first novel deals with very contemporary themes that are bound to spark great discussion--about patriotism and bravery and about the way an individual's interpretation of those values can be at odds with majority opinion. Kay WeismanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved