In Jensen’s (Frizzy, the S.A.D. Elf, 2014, etc.) middle-grade novel, a young girl in New Hampshire meets the titular, illustrious French hero of the American Revolution during his commemorative trip through America.
Clara Hargraves turns 14 on the first day of summer in 1825—a date that coincides with the one-year anniversary of her father’s marriage to Clara’s straight-laced aunt, Priscilla, which occurred only one week after Clara’s mother died. The stepdaughter and stepmother don’t get along; Priscilla considers Clara a “hopeless hoyden” for her tomboyish ways, while Clara stubbornly refuses to call Priscilla “Mama,” as her father urges her to do. Between her clashes with Priscilla, red-haired Clara chafes at the teasing of her brother Joss’ friend Dickon Weeks and her “dread cousin” Hetty—they call her “carroty pate” and “pumpkin head.” As Clara is preoccupied with her own small problems, the whole country is aflutter over “The Nation’s Guest,” the Marquis de Lafayette, who’s touring the United States to mark the 50th anniversary of the revolution; everywhere Clara goes, people are eager to relate tales of Lafayette’s noble deeds during the war, show off souvenirs, or share their delight in getting a wave or a buss (“a playful, smacking kiss”) on the cheek from the marquis. Her brief encounter with him will forever change how she views herself. Overall, this novel is well-researched; for example, Clara saves her pennies to buy a Simeon’s lead comb from a local store—a real-life product that promised to turn red hair “a beautiful shade of black.” Some other aspects of Jensen’s novel are predictable, however: Clara is a fairly standard spunky heroine, and her rapprochement with Priscilla is a foregone conclusion. But Jensen still manages to deliver a lot of historical facts without dull exposition—it’s perfectly plausible, for instance, that the adults in Clara’s life would tell her stories about Lafayette’s exploits, and her curiosity becomes infectious. Jensen also includes a glossary and bibliography for further reading.
A winning historical tale that may appeal to young fans of the musical Hamilton.