Thursday, November 11, 2010

On My Honor: The Last Full Measure by Ann Rinaldi

How could David always be so sure of his own rightness and never question himself? Never waiver for a moment to see the other person's side of it? Not even for a God-given little minute? Myself, somehow, despite my young years, I always knew there was another side to everything, and that was what frightened me in this world. The other side of things, and the fact that I might not see them.

But not my brother David--oh, no. He knew all and he saw all, God help him.

Tacy Stryker is 14, living in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in July of 1863. Her dad and two older brothers are off with the Union Army, and Tacy and her mother are left in the care of her older brother, David. David is both bitter and shamed that his shattered leg makes him unable to fight with his brothers, and Tacy, just beginning to feel herself a young woman, chafes under his harsh rule. She feels she is treated like a child, scolded for slipping out to check on Marvelous, her friend who is hiding in the nearby woods with other free blacks to avoid a return to slavery by the Rebels, or for daring to visit a friend treating the wounded in a makeshift hospital in the local church.

Until the war impinges on her world, she has been very close to David, the youngest brother, her playmate and ally, but as the war comes into her own home, David's assurance that he is always right crosses with Tacy's way of thinking often, and she struggles to meet her brother's expectations and be true to herself as well. But as the town fills with Confederates and she meets them face to face, she suddenly sees that she can never see the world in the same way David does.

Veteran historical fiction writer Ann Rinaldi sets up a family drama which is in a way a metaphor for the conflicting versions of honor which helped provoke the war itself. In her forthcoming The Last Full Measure (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010), Rinaldi's Tacy Stryker is a protagonist who is a clear-eyed eyewitness to the events around the critical Battle of Gettysburg, a conflict which changes her family and the nation forever. In her surprising climax, Rinaldi shows how David's sense of honor leads him to an unexpected act, one of great courage and yet one which is, like many deeds of war, perhaps meaningless outside the framework of conflict.

Rinaldi gets inside her main character and skillfully lets the historical events flow around her in a way that is historically accurate and yet natural. Her plot unfolds briskly but not without the detail that heightens the reader's sense of being there and seeing it as only an impressionable and resilient young woman could.

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