Title: The Girls of Gettysburg
Written by: Bobbi Miller
Published by: Holiday House, September 2014
Themes: Mighty girls, The Battle of Gettysburg, Civil war
Annie sank lower in the water, like a frog in her swamp. She hid in the thick of water lilies and huckleberry overhang, moving so slow the water forgot to ripple in her wake. The morning air was thick with heat and haze, thick as grits. She couldn’t see the Yanks.
The Girls of Gettysburg follows the heroic lives of three young women in their early teens with three distinctly different backgrounds and roles before and during the bloody battle of Picket’s Charge near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania during the American civil war.
Thirteen year-old Virginian, Annie Gordon, having experienced first-hand the loss of two brothers and her father to the war, disguises herself as a boy and joins the confederate army. The Portsmouth Rifles of the Ninth Virginia Army is marching north to Gettysburg.
Fourteen year-old Tillie Pierce is a pampered, giddy daughter of a Gettysburg merchant. Her naïve and glamorous view of the war will be shot apart as the rebel soldiers arrive and her view of the rebels themselves will be beautifully transformed through her participation in the battle.
Grace Bryan, a free black, also lives with her parents on a farm outside Gettysburg. Mr. Bryan is a very successful fruit farmer and he and his daughter refuse to join the other free blacks fleeing north for fear the rebels will arrest them as fugitive slaves.
This historical middle grade novel paints personal and poignant realities, both tragic and heroic in the lives of the three protagonists whose lives are linked forever during this the bloodiest of the civil war battles.
Why I like this book:
These are not girls with something to prove about their girlhood, they are girls with innate gumption, who, when put to the bloodiest of tests in nineteenth century battle conditions prove themselves to be human, humane and unflinching in their courage. This is a story that tugs on the heart-strings and pulls the reader into the conflict in such a personal way through these deeply developed characters that the fate, fears and triumphs of Annie, Tillie and Grace sat with me for days afterwards. Many war stories tend to give me the viewpoint from the saddle of the general’s horse, distant and safe, this took me to the trenches and cellars and stench of the battle.
As in Miller’s first historical novel, BIG RIVER’S DAUGHTER, her choice of language is pitch perfect for the era, characters and situations. As you see from the opening paragraph, she is a master of metaphor and sensorial details. I promise you’ll taste both peach juice and blood before the book’s finished.
An author’s note offers some of the key research that fueled the choice of the three protagonists and suggests that the field trips and research for this novel were extensive. I hope it proves a welcome tool for many teachers wanting to bring to life this history to their students as well as middle grade readers who love girls with guts as much as I do! The choice of day-by-day narration and the interwoveness of the three lives contributes to an excellent pacing. The actual period quotes inject a truly authentic feel.
This is guaranteed to score with your history-obsessed kids or to help make this history cool if they thought the war was one big yawn. Gory battle injuries, surgical procedures and intimate moments are among the many details that grab the reader and transport them to 1863 and Seminary Ridge.
STORIES! That’s what makes history come alive and Miller gives us a winning three-in-one here!