Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Where History Leads Us

This week I’m writing about recently published books ideally suited to time travel, that is, historical novels and biographies. While you’re turning pages, you’ll be “there.” When you finish the book, you’ll be glad to return home, glad you live now and not then, and glad your feet are not actually blistered from walking in the shoes of the main character. Best of all, you’ll want to know more. Warning: history is addictive.

WOODS RUNNER, by Gary Paulsen, Wendy Lamb Books, 2010

The time is 1776. Rumors that Americans are fighting the English in eastern towns and cities seem far removed from the Pennsylvania homestead where 13 year old Samuel lives with his gentle, book loving parents. Then war arrives in their midst with savage brutality. Samuel returns from a hunting trip deep in his beloved woods to discover that British soldiers and Iroquois Indians have attacked and slaughtered his neighbors, leaving their mutilated bodies beside their smoldering cabins. Samuel’s home has been burned, too and his parents have been taken prisoner. Incredulous that his parents weren’t killed and wondering why they were taken instead, Samuel uses his woodsman’s skills to track the captors. His chances of finding them alive, indeed his chances of staying alive to find them, are slim. Yet he meets allies, makes friends, survives, and arrives ready to rescue the people he loves most in the world.

Gary Paulsen is a highly awarded author and a skilled story teller. In a spare 161 pages, the story unfolds about one family caught up in this horrendous war which the author says, from extensive research, “lasted for eight long slaughtering years. Over two hundred thousand men between the ages of 16 and 25 answered the call in the War for Independence and stood to.” He adds, “stood to when that often meant death.”

This is not a rewritten history of the Revolutionary War. The author is very clear that this is not what he intended to write. “All combat is outrageous.” He makes the point. The reader will take Samuel and his family into his heart and the War will “stick” in his memory. This is a job well done.

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