cover image No Man's Land

No Man's Land

Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Blue Sky Press (AZ), $16.95 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-590-38371-4

Men go to war to vanquish enemies. Boys go to war to vanquish childhood. This piercing novel conveys both concepts as it explores the Civil War through the eager eyes of a 14-year-old Georgia boy, Thrasher McGee. The only way Thrasher can prove to his father that he's tough enough to fight 'gators--and anything else--is to run away and sign up with the Confederate Okefinokee Rifles. At first, boredom threatens to bog down the company's morale; they're disappointed when they're too late for the big battle at Port Republic, Va. Then, Thrasher is astounded when he and the other young soldiers meet some Yankees in the woods who want to exchange coffee and play baseball between the fighting. But soon enough the war finds them: ""Thousands of feet tramped. Thousands of tin cups clinked against thousands of cartridge belts. Ahead, the long columns of men wound as far as Thrasher could see.... Everywhere he looked he saw gray: gray morning mist, gray dust, gray men."" Bartoletti (Growing Up in Coal Country) compellingly and carefully crafts her characters, especially the boys-turned-soldiers Thrasher, Baylor Frable and Tim LaFaye, building up their na ve camaraderie right to the moment they enter the terrible adult conflict. She spins a history as fresh as the day it happened, told through the eyes of a boy who is too willing to claim adult responsibilities, far too soon. Ages 10-14. (May)