An accessible, historically rigorous tale.

Firebrand

Barnhart (The Big Divide, 2013) offers a YA novel about faith and courage, inspired by the true story of an immigrant who joined Kansas’ anti-slavery cause during the Civil War.

Former Kansas City Star television critic Barnhart previously published a travel guide to Civil War sites in the Missouri-Kansas region. This likable, teen-friendly novel ably resurrects a historical figure who participated in the abolitionist struggle there: Anschl (aka “August”) Bondi (1833–1907). Barnhart acknowledges his debt to two obscure works: Bondi’s posthumously published 1910 autobiography and Border Hawk, a 1958 novel by Lloyd Alexander. The story opens in Bondi’s native Vienna in 1848, with the 15-year-old fighting for freedom from despotic Prince Metternich. When his family sails to America, the same revolutionary spirit sparks his objection to the hypocrisy of slavery in the land of liberty. After a spell on a Texas riverboat, Bondi moves to Kansas Territory, a disputed slave region, to stake a claim and help his friend Jacob run his store. The biographical rundown can be somewhat tedious, but the pace picks up significantly at the halfway point, as Bondi meets famed abolitionist John Brown and his sons and war thunders closer. Although he feels uneasy about Brown’s methods, he admires his dedication to abolition: “We are fighting on the same side. If I do not agree with you, I do not judge you,” he reassures Brown. This is representative of the simple yet believable dialogue throughout. Moreover, Barnhart sets up a strong metaphorical connection between Bondi and the slaves, whose rights he later fights for in the Union Army’s Fifth Kansas regiment; because he experiences anti-Semitism himself, Bondi empathizes with the slaves’ persecution. Meanwhile, Jewish rituals provide a rich symbolic structure for Bondi’s coming-of-age journey. Reunited with his parents in Kansas, the family celebrates a Sabbath meal together. His wedding to Henrietta Einstein adheres to Jewish custom, and when he assumes he’s dying in battle, he recites the Shema, the ancient Hebrew declaration of faith. Maps (not seen) and a black-and-white photo of Bondi make this novel a potential supplement to U.S. history studies at the middle school or high school level.

An accessible, historically rigorous tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9669258-6-9

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Quindaro Press

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2015

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LYDDIE

Abandoned by their mother, whose mental stability has been crumbling since her husband went west, Lyddie and her brother Charlie manage alone through a Vermont winter. But in the spring of 1844, without consulting them, the mother apprentices Charlie to a miller and hires Lyddie out to a tavern, where she is little better than a slave. Still, Lyddie is strong and indomitable, and the cook is friendly even if the mistress is cold and stern; Lyddie manages well enough until a run-in with the mistress sends her south to work in the mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, thus earning a better wage (in a vain hope of saving the family farm), making friends among the other girls enduring the long hours and dangerous conditions, and expanding her understanding of loyalty, generosity, and injustice (she already knows more than most people ever learn about perseverance). Knowing only her own troubled family, Lyddie is unusually reserved, even for a New Englander, With her usual discernment and consummate skill, Paterson depicts her gradually turning toward the warmth of others' kindnesses—Betsy reads Oliver Twist aloud and suggests the ultimate goal of Oberlin College; Diana teaches Lyddie to cope in the mill, setting an example that Lyddie later follows with an Irish girl who is even more naive than she had been; Quaker neighbors offer help and solace that Lyddie at first rejects out of hand. Deftly plotted and rich in incident, a well-researched picture of the period—and a memorable portrait of an untutored but intelligent young woman making her way against fierce odds.

Pub Date: March 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-525-67338-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2000

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FORGOTTEN FIRE

Bagdasarian’s moving story of the little-told horror of the Armenian genocide is based on the recorded account by his great uncle. The narrative follows Vahan Kendarian from age 12 to 16, from a somewhat spoiled and confident school cut-up to a somber and steely young man. He watches as his brothers are shot and his sister takes poison and dies to avoid rape. He is molested himself, and nurses several companions to their deaths. He also builds a sense of his own inner character as he puts on many outward disguises, traveling from one dangerous situation to the next. If the narrative itself seems to wander and stumble through these experiences imparting little sense of direction, it does add to the mood of confusion, despair, and occasional unfounded hope. The lack of contextual material may frustrate some readers (WWI is not mentioned, and the presence of German and Russian military in Turkey not fully explained), but the short foreword does give just enough information to set the scene, and plunges readers, along with Vahan, into a terrifying situation they may not fully comprehend at first. There is very little material available to young readers on this subject. Kerop Bedoukian’s Some of Us Survived (1978) and David Kherdian’s Newbery Honor book The Road from Home (1979) are still in print, but this should find a new and appreciative readership. (Fiction. 12+)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-7894-2627-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: DK Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2000

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