In her historical fiction debut, Irvin (Let the Tail Go with the Hide, 2001) follows a young man as he comes of age in the 1700s during the French and Indian War.
In 1755, Josh Bedford doesn’t fit in. Thinking him unreliable, his father favors Josh’s older brother, Matt, who tortures Josh the way older brothers do. His mother coddles him, having lost Josh’s twin brother at birth, but also doesn’t defend him against his father’s disapproval. Josh longs for adventure, not the hard-toiling farming life he was born into; he often shirks his chores, which only exacerbates his problems at home. When his idol, Uncle Harry, a veteran of the famous battle at Fort Necessity, Pa., visits the family before returning to war, Josh takes the opportunity to run away. He hides in his uncle’s wagon, eventually arriving at Fort Cumberland in the company of the joined forces—the Redcoats, colonists and Native Americans—battling the French for control of America. To avoid discovery, Josh assumes a new name, Jed, and soon finds himself in service to not one but two famous historical figures: Daniel Boone and Capt. George Washington, who in turn show Josh the value of reliability and hard work, as well as the horrors of war. Whatever illusions of grandeur Josh may have harbored before witnessing battle firsthand are shattered when he sees his comrades fall. No longer a child, he returns home to the farm a changed young man. Irvin is well-versed in this period of history; in fact, a letter from her great-great-great-great-grandmother inspired one of the anecdotes about tense relations between the native population and the settlers. Her appreciation for detail shines in apt and engaging descriptions of the terrain, dress and speech, and though she writes for a YA audience, she never dumbs down the story or her language. Rather, Irvin uses her young protagonist’s inexperience with war as a vehicle to describe the hardships of living in 1755 without neglecting the equally important and timeless ideas of family, friendship and even love.
An enjoyable gallop through a crucial period in the struggle for America’s independence.