Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I Shall Be Near to You: A Novel by Erin Lindsay McCabe

I Shall Be Near to You: A NovelThis is one of those stories that will stay with me long after turning that last page, that I'll have to sit and think on, muse over, that won't let me just start another book and change my mindset immediately.

It's a powerful one.

We have a headstrong, sometimes foolish girl, who learns a few hard lessons in this story. War is not fun and games. You can't sign up for something and not finish. Life isn't a fairytale and things don't always work the way you want them to. And sometimes, going back is harder than leaving.

It's the American Civil War and Rosetta can't stand being left behind while her husband goes off to fight, leaving her on his family farm. She feels somewhat displaced, like she doesn't belong anywhere, always have been that girl who runs and plays like a boy, who prefers farm work to sewing. So she dresses as a soldier and follows him and through her eyes, we see the gritty Civil War, of women trying to be there for their men, of arms and legs and lives being lost, of advance and retreat, soldiers complaining, meager rations; we feel her fear as she writes her letters, just in case.

There's not a single emotion this book doesn't put a reader through.

There's even, briefly a lady spy, and an appearance by Clara Barton. This is truly a novel that showcases the strength of the female spirit, from the mother who buries baby after baby, to the woman who dons trousers and fights alongside her man, to the Captain's wife who nurses the wounded.

The ending, too, shows the strength of a woman, of our ability to face whatever life hands us. I can't reveal why.

Another cool thing about this is that it's inspired by a real-life woman named Sarah Rosetta Wakeman.

Much of the book is about war, about a few skirmishes gone bad, but just as much as the novel is about a woman sticking up for herself. She not only stands up to her husband a time or two, but helps others, gets in fisticuffs, and above all, tries to do whatever is honorable. And the love her and her husband feel for each other--it doesn't leap off the page at first, but is done subtle. We come to understand their relationship and the grounding for it over time, making it all the sweeter. There's a lot of heartache in this book, be warned, but it's a good story.

My only quibble is that it occasionally jumps back in time, to childhood, to teen-year memories, and it's jarring. It always threw me off when the book did this.

Maybe he and Jennie and people like them who feel the principle behind this war are fighting for a place they want to live, for a country where they can do what feels right to them, a country they can feel good calling home. But what good is that place if there ain't none of our friends left to share in it?

I received this via Netgalley.

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