During the American Revolutionary War, soldiers and camp followers endure harsh conditions in this sequel historical novel.
In Gillespie’s When Revolution Calls (2014), Oliver Tewkesbury, a patriot of 1776, contracted smallpox on his way to rejoining his regiment and became close to the White family of Granville, Connecticut, after being nursed back to health by 17-year-old Rebecca. Her brother Jacob, 15, joined up and was wounded in battle, and as the book closed, Rebecca promised to wait for Oliver’s return from war. In this sequel, set in 1778, paterfamilias Gabriel White decides to join Oliver in George Washington’s army. Rebecca, now 19, gets an escort to Valley Forge so that she can bring the soldiers supplies and help cook, sew, and tend the sick. Mehti, Rebecca’s tomboy younger sister, stows away on this trip; later, the sisters are joined by Hut, a former slave. Oliver, the Whites, and Hut each experience the cruel privations of Valley Forge while contributing to the war effort in his or her own way. Not everyone returns, or returns unscathed, but the novel ends on a note of celebration. Gillespie gives readers a well-rounded view of the revolutionary experience and does so especially well. The spycraft is entertaining, as is seeing how Washington’s bedraggled soldiers become a disciplined army, but the essential contributions of nurses, cooks, and seamstresses are also effectively brought out. Disease, starvation, cold, and heatstroke are also given due attention. Hut’s troubles with a would-be slave-catcher help illustrate additional complexities of the era’s politics. The novel is mostly well-researched—a recommended reading list is appended—but there are a few anachronistic missteps, such as a reference to a woman’s “knickers” (which were introduced in the19th century) and characters using too-modern words such as “angst” (not used in English until the 1920s) and “okay” (whose first known use was in 1839). Gillespie’s style is also somewhat pedestrian, but she sometimes offers striking images, such as the Washingtons’ Valley Forge home, which “smelled…of gun oil, tobacco, simmering root vegetables, and mud.”
A very human perspective on the importance of Valley Forge.