Irene Hunt's Across Five Aprils
Book review by Shannon Duncan
Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt is a historical novel
written for young adults. It is set in the 1860's, and the story
unfolds during the American Civil War. First published in
1964, it stands apart from the
seemingly endless list of novels set in this portion of American
The author has such strong feelings for this period in history at least partly because her own grandfather was a child when the war broke out.
In his later years, he spent much time reliving those years, telling stories to his grandchildren.
Those stories were powerful and left a deep impression on Irene Hunt. The touching note at the back of the book shows just how great his influence was on her. In his granddaughter's book, his memories live on.
The year after the book was published, 1965, it was awarded the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, the Clara Ingram Judson Memorial Award and was chosen as a Newbery Honour book. It was also a 1966 Dorothy Canfield Fischer Children's Book Award Nominee.
Young Jethro Creighton was growing up on a peaceful farm in southern
Illinois when his life, and the lives of thousands like him, was
interrupted by the outbreak of war.
He found himself carrying burdens, both physical and emotional, that
grown men would shrink from. He watched, helpless, as his family and
entire community was turned upside down while the war dragged on
year after year.
Even places that guns and cannons left untouched, suspicion, hatred, fear and grief continued the work of destruction. At the end of it all, Jethro saw for himself that victory was not all that it was made out to be; there were too many things that would never be the same again. In many minds the question lingered: is war ever worth the cost?
This is an intensely emotional story, but it is also more than just a story. In some ways, it is a commentary on the nature of man, and war in general.
It shows, through a story skilfully woven from the strands of memory, records and other sources, the cost of war, as well as a war's effect on ordinary people whose lives are fundamentally changed, even if they are not physically touched by the conflict. Boys were robbed of their childhood, parents of their sons and entire communities of their security and happiness.
In Across Five Aprils the author spends much time painting the characters, carefully portraying each one's response to the circumstances that they faced and their view of the world. This means that there is little action in this story, which might make it a challenging read for some people.
The historical detail in this book may become tedious to readers who are not interested in American history. The author, however, tells the whole story so lovingly that even the seemingly meaningless facts come to life, enabling you to associate with the people that lived in those times and places. You can also glean much from the observations of people and of war in this book.
If you are looking for an action thriller, then Across Five Aprils is not for you. If, however, you are looking for a touching story, then dive right in. This book is emotionally heavy, making it unsuitable for young or sensitive readers, but would probably be enjoyed most by children between 14 and 18 years old.
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