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In this fluidly written, thought-provoking novel set in 1980, 13-year-old Riley is unhappy about moving with his mother to the small town in Vermont where she grew up. His misery increases when Sam, an old high school friend of his mom’s, begins spending a lot of time with them. Riley is resentful of Sam, especially when he finds out that Sam is a pacifist who refused to fight in the Vietnam War. Things begin to look up for Riley after his mother gives him a pair of binoculars that belonged to his great-great-great-grand-father, a soldier in the Civil War. He develops an avid interest in the war and Vermont’s role in it, befriends a troubled girl in class, and grudgingly begins to form a relationship with Sam, though he still can’t accept what Sam did. But then events unfold in ways Riley could never have imagined, and he is forced to reexamine his ideas about courage, heroism, and the morality of war.
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Nancy Price Graff has written a number of nonfiction books and articles on various aspects of history, photography, and architecture. She has also done a film script for Vermont Educational Television, which won two Emmys and has been bought for national television. Ms. Graff lives in Montpelier, Vermont.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.
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