HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Girl In Blue
Author: Ann Rinaldi
Cover Illustrator: David Loew
Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks, reprinted in 2005
Language level: 3
(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 8 and up, but I would say 12 and up
Rating: 3 stars (FAIR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Rinaldi, Ann. Girl In Blue (published in 2001 by Scholastic Inc., 557 Broadway, New York City, NY 10012). It is 1861 and Sarah Louisa Wheelock, age fifteen, lives on a farm near Casey’s Mill, MI, with her father, mother, sister Betsy, and brother Ben. Her older sister Clarice is married. She has learned to hunt and ride better than any boy. Their abusive father, who beats both Sarah and her mother, plans to wed Sarah to their odious neighbor, Ezekiel Kunkle, who is a widower with two children. So she runs away, dresses as a boy named Neddie Compton, and joins the Union Army. As Neddy Sarah is sent to Washington, DC, but after the first Battle of Bull Run she is discovered. However, obviously being good at disguising herself and acting a part, she is recruited by Allan Pinkerton to serve as a maid in the home of the notorious Southern spy Rose Greenhow to help with surveillance and see if she can find out how Rose is sending messages. She begins to fall in love with Lt. Sheldon, head of the surveillance team, but then has reason to believe that he might be a traitor. Will her position be compromised so that she is found out again? And what should she do about Sheldon?
How weird is this! I obtain different books from different sources at different times and in different places and then put them in different piles to be read on different occasions. So the books that I am reading at any particular point are the result of happenstance. Back in 2011, I picked up some young people’s Civil War fiction books while visiting in Gettysburg, one of which, No Girls Allowed by Alan Kay, is a completely fictional account of a girl who dresses as a boy to fight in the Union Army. I just recently started reading it, but before I finished it, I began another book entitled A Soldier’s Secret by Marissa Moss which had been sent to me early in 2012 by the publisher for review and is a fictionalized account of the life of Sarah Edmonds who dressed as a boy to fight in the Union Army. Then before I finished that, I began reading Rinaldi’s book which I had actually first seen in a 2006 Scholastic Book catalogue and then bought later in 2012 at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Park near Springfield, MO. Rinaldi writes, “While Sarah Wheelock is a character of my own invention, I have based her somewhat on ‘Franklin Thompson,’ the male alias for Sarah Emma Edmonds, one of the most famous male soldier impersonators in the Civil War.” There is enough similarity so that having read A Soldier’s Secret I was immediately able to recognize the resemblances, but Rinaldi’s story is much more fictionalized, with changed names and many plot differences.
Girl in Blue is well written and easy to read. It has fewer objectionable elements than Moss’s book, omitting the euphemistic sexual references to male anatomy. However, while it is listed for ages eight and above, the “d” and “h” words are both used occasionally, the terms “God” and “Lord” are sometimes found as interjections, there are several instances of drinking beer, whiskey, and wine, and a few of the fighting scenes are a little intense with some gory detail. Therefore, I would recommend it for ages twelve and above. Rinaldi writes concerning the real Sarah Edmonds, “Her tenure in the army was longer than my Sarah’s, and she never served with the Pinkerton detective agency,” and said, “I have invented all the rest of the characters, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln, General McClellan, Doctor Hammond, Allan Pinkerton and his operatives, and Rose Greenhow and the women spies incarcerated with her at Fort Greenhow.” While a couple of reader reviewers felt that the novel doesn’t measure up to other Ann Rinaldi books and is not her best work, they still agreed that it is a suspenseful historical fiction story with a bit of adventure and a dash of romance. Amelia’s War is another Civil War historical novel by Rinaldi.