HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: A Soldier’s Secret: The Incredible True Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero
Author: Marissa Moss
Publisher: Amulet Books, 2012
Related website: www.amuletbooks.com (publisher)
Language level: 4
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Said to be for ages 12 and up, but I would say no younger than age 16
Rating: 2 stars (POOR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Moss, Marissa. A Soldier’s Secret: The Incredible True Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero (published in 2012 by Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams, 115 W. 18th St., New York City, NY 10011). Did you know that there were over 400 women who are known to have dressed as men and fought during the U. S. Civil War? One of them was nineteen-year-old Sarah Emma Edmonds, a native of New Brunswick, Canada, who at age sixteen ran away from a drunken father who abused her and a forced marriage to a repulsive neighbor. She dressed as a young man named Frank Thompson, came to Hartford, CN, and became a traveling bookseller for a publishing company. The firm sent Frank west, and in Flint, MI, he decided to join the Union Army of the Potomac, becoming a soldier, nurse, postmaster, general’s orderly, and spy, and seeing action in the battles of First and Second Bull Run, Williamsburg, Fair Oaks, Seven Days, and Fredericksburg. Frank manages to hide his secret for a long time, but when he becomes deathly ill due to swamp fever, will he be found out?
The story, which certainly deserves to be told, is related in an interesting way that is generally easy to read, and there are some genuinely humorous situations. Narrated by Sarah, the novel offers readers an in-depth look at the Civil War with a reasonably good job describing what it was like to be a soldier in battle at that time. Historical materials are used to build the foundation of the story. drawing heavily from Sarah’s own memoir and other first-person documents, so there is a great deal of detail about ordinary life in the military, plus much coverage of fighting and action, although the author did fabricate a major event at the end of the book on the basis that it “seemed like something that should have happened, and the advantage of fiction is that you can choose the shape of the story.” For the budding historian, the book includes a Civil War timeline, archival photos, a glossary of names, and a detailed note on sources. Those who are a bit on the sensitive side should be aware that some descriptions of the battle scenes, though perhaps not overly gratuitous, can be rather detailed and blunt.
To me, however, what stood out most in a book supposedly intended for young people is the bad language and sexual references. Besides several common euphemisms, the “d” and “h” words, in various forms and phrases (including “God***mit”), along with the name of God as an interjection, are used frequently. There are references to soldiers’ “pi**ing,” someone is called a “horse’s a**,” the terms “bi*ch” and “ba*t*rd” are found, and Sarah talks about her monthlies and bloody menstrual cloths. Also discussions occur about the size of “male anatomy” and the fact that Frank’s is “less than ample.” The vulgar slang word “pecker” even appears in this regard. I understand that some modern authors of young adult books feel that it is necessary to include these kinds of things to be “realistic.” And I suspect that some parents may not mind them, but others like me feel that they are totally unnecessary or will at least want to know about them ahead of time, especially in a book that is said to be for ages twelve and up. If you were the father of an innocent twelve-year-old girl, how would you feel if she is reading the book, comes up to you, and out of the blue asks, “Dad, what’s a pecker?” This is why I recommend it for no one under age sixteen. Finally, I was struck by someone else’s personal reaction about how sad it was that Frank’s way of proving his masculinity was to tell dirty stories and spit and scratch and “break wind” (i.e., pass gas).