Novel Thoughts: Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

Anderson has an effective style that adeptly integrates historical facts, details, and nuances into her stories. In Forge, she focuses not only on the political history, but on the cultural history as well. She incorporates numerous superstitions (for example, a cow born with two heads is a bad omen. Go figure.) of the day, as well as the sense of pride and unity felt between most of the soldiers, regardless of their race or class. Notice, I said most. She is also quick to point out that unity was not necessarily the goal of everyone involved in the battles of the war. Subplots deal with disunity within the ranks because of race and disloyalty of both British and American soldiers to the cause.

This book doesn’t gloss over the atrocities of war; in fact, one of the opening scenes deals with two boys, Curzon and Ebenezer, faced with the ultimate wartime conundrum: kill or be killed. The story follows the construction of Valley Forge and serves to highlight the difficulties faced by the soldiers there, as opposed to glorifying the decisions of the officers. Through Curzon’s story she chronicles the food shortages, clothing shortages, and dire health concerns faced by those encamped in the legendary military stronghold. The story also follows Isabel, Curzon’s love interest who was also present in Chains. Isabel acts as the female voice in the story, serving to expose the different kinds of dangers faced by female slaves. While she is a strong presence in the novel, Anderson’s description of what has happened to her and what continues to happen to her is a bit vague at times. Readers get an idea of what life is truly like for Isabel, but any dangers unique to female slaves (for instance, those of rape by a white slaveowner) are merely hinted at or suggested.

Anderson’s use of dialect in this novel seems contrived at times. She does include language contemporary to the time, and she ensures the reader’s understanding of the terms by including a glossary at the end of the story. However, the narrative voice of the story seems to slip in and out of modern language, making the use of the vernacular of the time period seem forced.

As with most novels in a series (which, evidently, this one is), the end of the novel serves to leave readers wanting more via the next novel. However, Forge ends so abruptly that readers are likely to find themselves flipping through the last few pages trying to find what they missed. Cliffhangers are one thing, but when a reader is left with this much uncertainty, it seems that more information might have been helpful and, in fact, necessary.

As with her novel Fever 1793, Anderson has included a question and answer section as well as further reading in different appendices at the back of the book. The answers to the questions are thoughtful and probably intriguing to younger readers previously unfamiliar with the history related in the story. Anderson’s books never leave a reader wondering where her information came from and where they can go to discover more should they find their interest piqued. Forge serves not only to educate young readers but to entertain them as well, putting a human face on the history so often sanitized in textbook accounts.

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