Reviewed February 3, 2011.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010. 292 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #6 Children's Fiction
Curzon is a slave who has just escaped as this book opens. But unfortunately he soon finds himself hiding in a ravine right in the middle of a Revolutionary War battle. Instead of staying nicely hidden, he intervenes when a redcoat is about to kill a young Patriot soldier. One thing leads to another, and he finds himself enlisting as a Patriot soldier, claiming to be free.
The army ends up wintering in Valley Forge. Curzon is in a company with the boy whose life he saved, and he gains friends and enemies among them. Readers get a fresh view of the deprivations the army suffered at Valley Forge, and will feel like now they really know what it was like.
However, things change for Curzon when his former master shows up.
I already knew that Laurie Halse Anderson is an outstanding author from having read Speak. So I wasn't surprised at how well she crafted this book. It's a gripping story and gives you fresh insight into the Revolutionary War.
The only drawback for me was that having recently read The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, I felt like I'd already read the definitive story of a black soldier during the Revolutionary War, and I wasn't really ready to read about more suffering. Now, mind you, Forge is for a younger audience. The story is simpler (though still complex -- it's easy to be simpler than Octavian Nothing) and the book is wonderfully well-crafted. In a lot of ways I enjoyed Forge more. It's definitely a different story, since Octavian fought on the British side. It was things like when people got sick, I found myself cringing and bracing myself for the kind of epidemics I read about in the other book. (They didn't happen.)
Forge is a sequel to Chains, but I hadn't read the first book and followed this one just fine. It did make me want to read Chains, though, and read more about Curzon and his friend Isabel.
I was thinking about my knowledge of History today and realized that I have a much more clear understanding of parts of history that I have read in novel form. And now my ideas about Valley Forge, combined with having visited the site, are much more memorable and vivid than they ever were before.
Compelling historical fiction from a masterful writer.