William Henry is a fine name / by Cathy Gohlke.

I have seen him in the watchfires / by Cathy Gohlke.

HS (MS)     Rating: 5

Cathy Gohlke has written an award-winning and well-researched Civil War series for young adults.  These books give wonderful insight into the realities of war and slavery.  Both of her books are recent award winners, winning the 2007 and 2009 Christy (Young Adult) awards.

William Henry is a Very Fine Name follows a 13-year old white boy in the pre-Civil War South as he deals with his father’s involvement in the Underground Railroad and his mother’s distaste for abolition.  Robert witnesses the terrible effects of slavery in the life of his best friend, William Henry, a young black boy.  Robert finds himself at a crossroads of choosing whether to support his father’s or his mother’s sentiments.

I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires continues Robert’s story.  His father is fighting for the Union while Robert faces challenge after challenge: his mother is ill; his cousin asks for his help, and his injured Confederate uncle is in a Union prison. Robert becomes unwittingly entangled in a prison escape plot, is left for dead, and faces charges as a spy.  All of these test his integrity, endurance, and faith.

These books are rich in character and plot development.  Robert grows from a boy of 13 into a young man of 17.  He faces life-changing decisions and their consequences within his family relationships.  As he matures and witnesses the violence imposed on the slaves, Robert must decide how he truly feels about slavery and what he is willing to sacrifice to speak up for those beliefs.

The events in these books are compelling and not sugar-coated.  Sexual immorality, female slaves being violated by white masters, and violence are talked about by the main characters.  While handled tactfully and treated as evil, parents may want to give it only to mature readers or preview the book first.

Recommended for all high school libraries land teen collections in public libraries.

—reprinted from Christian Library Journal, July 2010.

Disclaimer: Book reviews are my opinion of books I either purchased or received free of cost from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.

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