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Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Quartet and a Duet Worth Reading


By Jan Pease

 In 1994, an unusual little book, “The Giver,” won the Newbery Medal, for most distinguished children’s book.  I remember talking to other librarians about the book, as I read it around the time I attended some meeting.  I don’t want to spoil the book for you if you haven’t read it, but the ending was left intentionally ambiguous.  It seemed to depend on the pessimism or optimism of the reader. 

  Somehow I missed “Gathering Blue” and “Messenger,” vaguely knowing that they were part of the trilogy, but I didn’t read them.  In October, Lois Lowry’s fourth book in the series, “Son,” was published, turning the trilogy into a quartet.  I read all four books over a recent weekend because Mary Hansen had the Middle School Book Club read “Messenger” and “Son.”    She does a fantastic job with the book club, but I sometimes like to read along with them.


 Reading the quartet simply blew my socks off.  I found several critical, even harsh reviews of Ms. Lowry and “The Giver” online. Most of the comments, however, praise the book, especially when taken in context with the rest of the series.  It foreshadowed the current trend of books about dystopic societies and tyrannical governments.  “The Giver” was published three years before the “Harry Potter” books, and nearly 15 years before “The Hunger Games.”   Now “Son” concludes the quartet, answering many questions, but raising others.   Read Lois Lowry’s biography on her website, loislowry.com, for insight into her life and her books.


“A Soldier’s Secret” by Marissa Moss is a new book about Sarah Edmonds.  It is historically accurate, with reproductions of photographs from the time, a time line, a bibliography, and brief biographies of the Union Army officers who knew Sarah as Frank Thompson.  Ms. Moss admits that the last scene of the book is what she thinks should have happened instead of the actual events; after all, this is a novel, not a biography. 

More than 400 women served in the Civil War, but most of them followed husbands, brothers, or boyfriends who helped them live in the camps.  The real Sarah Emma Edmonds is the only woman known to have lived as both a man and a woman.   As a teenager, Sarah Edmonds dressed as a boy, with short curly hair, calling herself Frank Thompson.  She passed as a young man for three years and then enlisted in the Union Army.  Sarah Edmonds wrote a bestselling book, “Unsexed, or the Female Soldier,” in 1864.  It was later reprinted as “Nurse and Spy in the Union Army: comprising the adventures and experiences of a woman in hospitals, camps, and battlefields.”   Her account is available for Kindle, Nook, and free at Project Gutenberg .  Sarah Edmonds died at the age of 56, and is the only woman of her time allowed to be buried in the Civil War section of a cemetery in Houston.  She is also the only woman who was mustered into the Grand Army of the Republic.  If you enjoy “A Soldier’s Secret,” look for Sarah’s own version of her adventures as a Union Army soldier, available through mnlink.


 Juvenile books can be exciting, thought-provoking, and heart-wrenching.  I enjoyed  reading “A Soldier’s Secret” and “The Giver Quartet” and would recommend them to anyone.    See you at the library!