Listening to the Voice of Reason as a Military Writer
by Ann DeWitt
Imagine before the first book is distributed by Ingram Book Company that an historian slams a novel based solely on the subject matter. Now, imagine that you later find out that the goal of said historian is to "put 19th Century American slaves back in their rightful place in American Civil War military history." Finally, imagine that the first young adult to read the same book receives an "A" on a school book report.
Do you listen to the historian with the PhD? Or do you listen to the teenager and the high school teacher? I surmise that the author always listens to his/her readers. In this case, we celebrated with and praised the high school student for her individual success in obtaining an "A."
The referenced young adult historical fiction novel is titled Entangled In Freedom: A Civil War Story. The novel is told from the point of view of Isaac, a slave, who resurrects dormant facts about some slaves, who did not escape north, but served with the Confederate States Army (CSA). Military events are observed through Isaac's eyes as he travels with the CSA 42nd Regiment Georgia Volunteers from Oxford, Georgia to Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. Peter M. Fitzpatrick, a reviewer for The US Review of Books, states, "...The sharp edges of class and race and roles allowable ring through the pages like the loud echoes of the same do today. African Americans wore the grey as well as the blue, here is a window onto their story. Self-interest, altruism, compulsion, even the struggle for respect: these are some of the motives slaves might have had to defend the institution that enslaved them. They are also American motivations, ones we all can taste. Taste them we do, in this grand, yet simple, story."
Thus, main character Isaac's voice emerges to some historians as clunky and/or awkward. Why is this so? Because for the first time, perhaps, in 150 years, young adult readers are listening to Isaac's voice.