Saturday, June 25, 2011

Dear America: Cannons at Dawn- the Second Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania 1779 by Kristiana Gregory

Sixth months after the Winter of Red Snow, Abigail Stewart and her entire family lose their house to a fire, and are forced to take shelter with their father in the Revolutionary Army after attempting to take shelter elsewhere. This means that they will be forced to make the acquaintance of the camp followers, women who are considered little better than whores, who cook and clean for the men.

Abigail and her family take shelter with friends, but because of some accidents and shortages, they must leave Abigail's oldest sister, Elizabeth, behind. Even as Abigail mourns, missing her sister, she at least knows that Elizabeth will be safe, and might even find love with the soldier Ben Valentine, who her sister likes.

But times are tough everywhere, and as the army alternately freezes and starves, so do the wives and camp followers. Abigail, thrust into the role of a more mature women, makes friends with a former slave girl and her mother, and must help out her friends when their former owner tracks them down. But can she make a happy ending for the two women with the connivance of her mother and the help of a free black man who is part of the Continental Army?

And when the army starves and freezes, Abigail, her mother and her sisters and brothers starve and freeze along with the army. General Washington and his men are waiting for supplies and reinforcements from the French. but as time passes, there is still no sign of the French ships. Even General Washington's wife is there, trying to help her husband and spending time with her own ladies, and extending the hand of friendship to Abigail's mother. But will Martha Washington's gifts of shoes and cookies be that much help to Abigail and her mother?

Meanwhile, Abigail is falling for her father's fellow soldier, Willie Campbell. but can someone as young as Abigail survive the war along with her husband and baby, or will the war be too much for them both? And can both of them survive to the end of the war and the celebration afterwards?

I enjoyed this book, which is told in the form of diary entries, and which follows the War for Independence. Abigail and her family are close to the Washingtons, which allows for readers to see both sides of the war- the one being fought on the ground by the soldiers, and the more removed and intellectual part being fought by General Washington to win those battles through tactics and with the lives of the soldiers.

Abigail, most of the time, could not care why the battles are being fought, she just wants to ensure that her family and loved ones are safe. But at the same time, she catalogues what is going on with the soldiers, and the want and deprivation they face on a daily basis, which she shares, along with her family. This puts a human face on the suffering of the troops. But it isn't all suffering, there are light times as well.

I liked the fictional look this book gave us of the Revolutionary War. It gives us a look at both sides of the war- on the American side, that is, and includes an ending to the war and the characters, including their children and descendants. I'd definitely recommend this series and this book to young readers interested in history. Recommended.

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