A young woman fights against the injustice of slavery and searches for true love during the Civil War.
After disguising herself as a man and fighting alongside the Union army in the first volume of Mach’s trilogy (Sissy!, 2004)–about a host of characters navigating their way through the turmoil of the war–heroine Jessica Radford turns to the power of her pen to help emancipate slaves. While she strives to complete a novel about the difficulties faced by a freed slave whose persona is remarkably similar to her own, Jessica struggles to choose between two suitors: preacher Matt Lightfoot, a slavery advocate despite his fighting for the Union, and Otto Heller, an older widower who has dedicated his life to ending slavery. Jessica’s passionate writing is as much a rebellion against the constraints placed on women in a patriarchal society as it is against slavery, but, as the title suggests, she’s only one piece of the puzzle. The story is told from the shifting perspectives of a host of different characters, including former slave Tinker, southern belle-turned-prostitute Sara Toby and free black Canadian musician Devin Alcott, with cameos by historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman. Mach’s attention to historical detail is impressive, and young-adult readers will undoubtedly appreciate the mixture of vivid battlefield descriptions and unique characters, each with their own compelling backstory. A few anachronisms detract from the authenticity, and there are moments when the dialogue and dialect don’t ring true, such as when historical facts are awkwardly inserted mid-conversation. The constantly changing perspectives, while a well-chosen vehicle for the large ensemble cast, often switch at a dizzying pace, creating a perplexing mix of insightful moments and abrupt shifts that disrupt the narrative flow.
An admirable effort, though all parts don’t quite fit together.