In ‘Storm Before Atlanta,’ a boy joins the Civil War to escape his boring life

April 8, 2011

“The Storm Before Atlanta” by Karen Schwabach. Ages 8-12. $16.99

Jeremy DeGroot isn’t the first boy to want to be a soldier and fight in a war before he’s old enough. He isn’t the first to believe that fighting, even dying, for a great cause is better than living a boring life. And from the first pages of this historical novel, set during the height of the Civil War, fighting and dying for his country is what 10-year-old Jeremy sets out to do.

While kids today may not dream of fighting in a war, they have more in common with young Jeremy than might seem obvious. Like a lot of kids, Jeremy has a tendency to react before he thinks. And he has a tendency to overreact: He doesn’t like his life as an indentured servant in New York, so he sets out to fight in the Civil War. (It’s a bit like wanting to run away from home because you have to share a room with your brother while relatives visit.)

If kids today can see their own feelings in some of Jeremy’s reactions (and overreactions), then they might also recognize themselves, as Jeremy realizes that he may have misjudged the glory of war and his desire to die young. As he heads to Georgia, he meets a newly freed slave girl, whose joy in life is something that Jeremy has never experienced. And his interactions with a mysterious Confederate soldier makes him question what an “enemy” really is.

During his time at war, Jeremy learns that the world is not as simple as he imagined, or even as a 10-year-old might like.

— Tracy Grant

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