Sunday, August 31, 2008

Book Review: Stonewall Hinkleman

OK, so there I am, all la-di-da, reading my brand new ARC of Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run, by my buddy Sam Riddleburger and his co-author, Michael Hemphill.

I’m marveling at the spot-on teen voice. I’m appreciating the historical references expertly inserted throughout. I’m admiring the way they handle the whole time-travel-portal thing. I’m just plain enjoying a fun story, well told.

When all of a sudden … Wham!

A third of the way through the book, there’s this note, written by Thomas Stonewall Jackson himself to our main character, Stonewall Hinkleman (who, in case you haven’t guessed, is named after him), and the note is urging Hinkleman to prevent the South from winning the Civil War.

Yes, the South, the very side I fought for, but which I now know to have been very much in the wrong. Now I understand the extraordinary injustice of slavery and the countless contributions that African Americans as a free people have made to….

Get. Out.

Now, for those of you from the North, or the Midwest, or the West, or Florida … you may be wondering, Linda, what’s the big deal? The Union beat the Confederacy. The slaves were freed. It’s all good. Right?

Hmph. Shows what you know.

Not that I don’t get where you’re coming from. I was born, raised and educated in Pennsylvania. I’m a Yankee at heart.

However, having lived south of the Mason Dixon line for 20+ years and having a brother who teaches Civil War history to fifth graders in North Carolina, I can tell you, there is another version of that portion of American history, one that has less to do with freeing slaves and maintaining these United States of America and more to do with rejecting rule by a federal government and protecting one’s homeland from an invasion by the North.

So how is it that two authors from the great state of Virginia have fictionalized a note from Stonewall Jackson calling the South wrong? Surely they realize this will be considered sheer blasphemy by many of their neighbors. Are they trying to stir up controversy? And if so, wouldn’t it be simpler just to use the word “scrotum” somewhere in the note and be done with it?

So now I’m all no-they-didn’t as I’m reading the rest of the ARC, wondering (fearing) whether this is going to be just a PC indictment of the South with no acknowledgement of the genuine issues the Confederacy faced during the dark days of the war.

But I don’t have long to wonder. About 20 pages later, I get to a part where a Confederate soldier named Cyrus tells Hinkleman about his family’s business dealings with blacks.

Hinkleman is shocked:

Free blacks? In Virginia? And Joshua treated them the same as whites? I look hard at Cyrus to see if he’s joking. I always think of all blacks as slaves and all whites as slave-owners, but it was a lot more complicated than that.

And just a few pages later, Cyrus and Hinkleman have this exchange:

“… the way I see it, the North is full of men like John Brown. Men who killed my brother and now want to come down here and tell us how to live. … some things are worth fighting for. Like family and home.”

“But John Brown was trying to free slaves,” I say, more to myself. “I mean, that’s what the war was all about.”

I look up at Cyrus. He’s got a scowl on his face and he says real low, “Joshua didn’t have no slaves. Daddy and me don’t have no slaves. This ain’t about the slaves. This is about us being free.”

And so it is that I was able to resume my la-di-da reading, this time with an even keener appreciation for the historical perspectives being brought to Stonewall Hinkleman’s story.

Well done, lads. Well done.

(P.S. No review of “Stonewall Hinkleman” would be complete without mention of the fantabulous cover, illustrated by none other than Tuesday Mourning.)


The Bulletproof Monk said...

Glad they redeemed themselves. I mean, as a Virginia boy....I was hot in my collar for a minute there.


LindaBudz said...

I have a feeling you'd like this book, Monk. The kid in you would, anyway. (And I'm pretty sure you still have some kid in you, despite the fact that you and Joe sometimes seem to try to outdo each other with your grouchy-and-or-angry-old-men personae.)