This was an unusual read for me. I love historical fiction – but always need to remind myself of that fact – however I had a feeling that this book would be too much for me. It’s based on the true story of Sarah Emma Edmonds, a teenager who disguised herself as a boy and fought through the American Civil War never letting her true identity show, except for a select few. I was worried that the story would be too shrouded in fact for me and read too much like a history lesson, but it didn’t at all and I ended up loving Sarah’s story and wanting more!
The story starts when Frank tries to enlist for the first time. She is told that she is too young to sign up and that by the time she’s old enough the war will be done. Frank is actually 19 at this point but as a boy she looks younger. She goes back to her bookselling job and then tries again a few months later when the need is greater. I loved that whilst she leaves defeated we enter into her history, she shares with us how she has been working as a travelling book salesman and how before that she chopped wood for a living. It was interesting to know that Sarah was living as Frank before the war started and didn’t only do it for the War, even if she was passionate about it anyway.
I’m not a huge history person and prefer my history to be fictional when I do read it so I was worried about how much this book would cover and how much I’d need to know about the American Civil War, especially as if you had asked me before I read this book, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you when it even started! However I needn’t have worried as every so often dates and places were mentioned. I wasn’t sure on my facts about why the War started and actually looked that up myself, using the timeline in the back of the book, but as the information was readily available in the book as I was reading it, this wasn’t a problem either.
I learnt a lot about American history from A Soldier’s Secret but it never felt like a history lesson, it was a story about a girl who was fighting for her country and for herself. I loved the debates with Jerome, the only solider who knew Frank was a girl, about how women are just as able as men and I loved the feeling of security and friendship that you get throughout the book from the other soldiers. The story was really interesting and even when you can tell its based in fact Franks voice really brings it out as a story.
I liked Franks battle with her identity and how it made for problems with using the toilets and getting changed and stuff like that. I also enjoyed the love story aspect of the book, however that was the only thing that I didn’t like as much. I found Frank to be quite annoying with her pinning after Jerome, it got to be s distraction from the war aspect of the story in places and it annoyed me, but that was only occasionally, for the most part I did enjoy it.
The friendships that Frank gains thorughout the book are important in shaping her identity I think and I particularly loved Damon, James and Jerome. James was my utter favourite because he knew Franks secret but never mentioned it because it didn’t matter to him, it didn’t change his opinion of Frank. I also loved Mr Hurlbert and Colonel Poe as I thought they were fantastic, strong characters who were there for Frank and helped shape her story.
There was a lot I loved about A Soldier’s Story, and I loved it a lot more than I thought I would. I would recommend it for any teenager who has an interest in History and war, and especially American history. It would make for a perfect book to have in a school library and to point teachers in the direction of if they want to teach their students about the American Civil War – especially with the timeline, bibliography, biographies and ‘Story behind the Story’ extras in the back of the book. The first person voice really made me understand Franks background and reasoning for everything she did and along with the pictures dotted throughout made the story come to life.
A Soldier’s Spy was published on September 1st by Amulet, an Abrams and Chronicle imprint. My copy was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.