I know Rosemary Wells, and maybe you do too, as the author of the Max and Ruby picture books for young children. She can write for young adults, too. Red Moon at Sharpsburg is proof that Ms. Wells has the ability to write and research and create a wstory and a world for young adults as vivid as the one created with very few words and pictures in her Max books.
Red Moon at Sharpburg is, as can be deduced, a Civil War novel. It’s told from the point of view of a southern girl, India Moody, who lives in Northern Virginia with her family —her daddy, a harness maker, her mother, her little brother and her aged grandfather. The Moodys aren’t rich before the war begins, but they are comfortable with a home and a profitable business. The war, of course, changes everything. In spite of a couple of holes in the plot, I thought Red Moon at Sharpsburg was one of the best Civil War novels written for young adults that I have read. The “holes” involve minor characters, namely India’s baby brother and her elderly grandfather, who have a tendency to disappear when they might interfere with the action. I also found it difficult to believe that a young girl in the South during the war was able through a series of fortunate connections to obtain medicines (aspirin?) from Europe that would cure fever since aspirin wasn’t really invented until the late 1800’s. And the one of the characters has a suspiciously modern knowledge of medicine and chemistry and bacteriology that would have made him somewhat prescient in the mid 1800’s.
Still, the narrator and main character, India, is a delightful young lady and role model. And the descriptions of the war, of battlefields and prisons, and of atrocities are accurate and chilling. Ms. Wells says in the back of the book that part of her purpose in writing it was to reveal “the profound immorality of war.” She goes on to say, “Sometimes we must fight wars, but it is unforgivable to pump war full of glamour and glory.” I’m no pacifist, but I agree with Ms. Wells. She also has a mildly feminist agenda, but it doesn’t become overbearing or preachy.
The best thing about this novel was the gems of language and writing that popped up when I was least expecting them. Here are a few examples:
“I follow him down to Buckmarsh Street to catch a last glimpse of him. Then I cry, standing in the the street like a child with a skinned knee.”
Mauve is a pinkish purple of such delicacy I can only hold the silk square to the light and gaze at it. I have seen it only in petunias and stained-glass windows.”
“The moon is in its last quarter. It appears low on the horizon above the smoke. The crescent sits like a bloody smile in the sky.”
“I am aware of a sudden force, as if I have been flung through space at the speed of a comet. I know what this speeding ahead is without being told. It is me being hurled forward in time to the empty spot at the head of my family. It is a place where I was not meant to be for years to come and now I’m there.
Other good Civil War novels for young adults:
Beatty, Patricia. Turn Homeward, Hannalee.
Beatty, Patricia. Be Ever Hopeful, Hannalee.
Beatty, Patricia. Charley Skedaddle. (Bowery Boys and deserters)
Hunt, Irene. Across Five Aprils.
Fleischman, Paul. Bull Run.
Keith, Harold. Rifles for Watie. (Cherokee Indian leader Stand Watie and the repeating rifle)
Paulsen, Gary. Soldier’s Heart: a Novel of the Civil War.
Perez, N.A. The Slopes of War: A Novel of Gettysburg.
Rinaldi, Ann. An Acquaintance with Darkness. (Lincoln’s assassination)
Rinaldi, Ann. The Last Silk Dress.
Rinaldi, Ann. Numbering All the Bones. (Andersonville Prison)
Wisler, G. Clifton. THe Drummer Boy of Vicksburg.