cover image Amelia's War

Amelia's War

Ann Rinaldi. Scholastic Press, $15.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-590-11744-9

In this novel inspired by the Confederate ransom of Hagerstown, Md., Rinaldi's (The Coffin Quilt) backdrop is as compelling as ever, but the narrator's undeveloped character lessens its intensity. The story begins in 1861, as 11-year-old Amelia Grafton relates the Civil War's impact on her sharply divided yet tightly linked town: ""Mama and I were Southerners, but not Rebels. We were for the Union, but not the Yankees. You have to be from Maryland to understand it."" When Amelia's actions inadvertently contribute to the demise of her friend's father, a Confederate-sympathizing newspaperman, and his printing press, Amelia vows to remain neutral which, unfortunately, translates as a rather passive recounting of events through most of the novel. Among the book's strengths are some riveting characters both real (Generals Lee and Custer make cameo appearances) and imagined (e.g., the fictional Jinny Pearl shoots a Rebel soldier after he attempts to rape her and disguises herself as a man to enlist). The pace picks up in the last quarter of the novel when, in 1864, Confederate General McCausland threatens to burn Hagerstown unless its citizens pay an astronomical ransom, and Amelia must finally choose sides. However, readers will likely find the unfolding of Amelia's outfoxing of the general implausible (she applies white paint to alter the ransom order) and may not stay with the book long enough to witness the highly personal price of this war. Ages 10-14. (Nov.)