Corny, platitudinous and improbable coming-of-age tale about a Civil War–obsessed preteen.
Kat’s a scrapper, a brainiac, an 11-year-old tomboy straight out of an after-school TV special. Daddy’s a beer-swilling homebuilder given to rages about Mother’s cooking (“dried-up hamburgers and pissy peas”). Mom’s a mildly bohemian Southern belle, blonde beauty and abstract painter. And Gable’s a debut novelist who might better consider a YA readership. Seeking refuge from present dysfunction, Kat romances the past. She’s sure every Johnny Reb wore a halo, including her kinfolk wounded at Gettysburg or carrying mail through Yankee lines. Mom plots escape: hitting the interstate, Georgia to Maine, the Impala speeding and Aretha wailing, with Kat by her side. Her daughter is thrilled. Let Mom fantasize a future selling antiques to chowderheads; Kat will see history close-up, detouring at Civil War battlefields. An endless odyssey, their trip flashbacks to every last detail of Kat’s quotidian childhood (menus, school days, falling out of a tree) while she pores over the Golden Book of the Civil War and masters trivia (the size of Stonewall Jackson’s horse, the baffling mystique of the Monitor and Merrimac). It’s 1968, however, and reality dares intrude. With both Dr. King and RFK killed, the headlines are alarming enough to rouse even Kat from her reverie. Glutted with Dixie memorabilia and groggy with tales of Lost Cause glory, she finally wakes up while touring Gettysburg. There she comes upon a fellow fanatic, an unreconstructed racist whose nostalgia for 1865 carnage is a little too loopy even for Kat, and realizes that the slavery-era South wasn’t Eden and war is bad. Gable’s earnestness is almost redeeming, but, my, does her story creep along.
Mute the cute and this coulda been a contender, a history lesson about Southern identity. But as it is, the sugar shock is nearly toxic.