In Leppo’s debut YA novel, a teenage boy from 2012 time-travels 150 years into the past and becomes a drummer in the Union army.
For young Josh, an extended vacation full of chores in rural Tennessee sounds like a complete nightmare. Following his father’s death, Josh’s mother took the family—which also includes his sister, Evie—to their aunt and uncle’s historic inn, promising to help the older couple refurbish the building. Despite his initial reservations, Josh becomes charmed by the inn’s residents, who like to share tales of history. One night, he hears a strange drumming sound and encounters a young man named Tobias (nicknamed “Toby”) in the inn’s basement; he later realizes that it’s the ghost of his ancestor, whose father was anti-slavery and fought for the Union. After several encounters with Toby, Josh finds himself transported back to 1862, where he embarks on a quest to enlist in the Union army as a drummer boy. Leppo relates the Civil War-era narrative from a modern perspective that allows her to make commentary that may make the story feel more relevant to the book’s young audience. When Toby marvels at modern-day technological conveniences, Josh remarks, “Even though we have lots of things that make life easier, your life now is a whole lot less complicated….Where I come from most people spend all day at work or school, and families hardly see each other.” Although the book’s prose is straightforward and easy to read, it begins slowly and is somewhat heavy with exposition. However, once Josh joins Toby in the past, it’s difficult not to become invested in their fates. The characters in the Union camp are endearing, and scenes of army life are informative and intriguing. The time that Josh spends in battle is minimal and the descriptions aren’t overtly graphic, but Leppo does convey the grisly nature of war through conversations with affected characters. The story glosses over the logistical problems inherent in time-travel pieces, hinging the plot on supernatural forces. The ending is satisfying enough, however, to excuse any potential paradoxes.
A sweet tale of friendship that will educate readers about life in a Civil War camp.