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*The Storm Before Atlanta* by Karen Schwabach - middle grades book review
Also by Karen Schwabach:

A Pickpocket's Tale
The Storm Before Atlanta
by Karen Schwabach
Grades 5-8 320 pages Random House December 2010 Hardcover    

Young Jeremy DeGroot is an indentured servant who has managed to escape his master and now survives by selling newspapers on the streets of Syracuse. The year is 1863, and the front-page stories about glorious battles between Union and Confederate forces convince Jeremy that his destiny is to die for the Union, thus becoming a hero himself.

After months of pondering the ballad of the Drummer Boy of Shiloh, Jeremy sets out to find the war and fulfill his destiny. Despite his youth, he soon finds himself a drummer boy with the 107th New York Volunteer Infantry.

On the march to Atlanta, where the 107th confidently expects to defeat the Confederate army, Jeremy encounters Charlie, a boy not much older than himself, and the two become instant friends. The drawback here is that Charlie is a soldier in the Army of the Confederacy – the enemy!

Though baffled by Charlie’s loyalty to the rebellious Secessionists, Jeremy can’t help but like and admire his good-natured new friend. Add to this mix Dulcie, a girl Jeremy’s age who has escaped slavery and taken refuge with the 107th.

These three engaging characters with fundamentally different perspectives on the war and the reasons behind it make for a lively and thought-provoking tale of life amid chaos and conflict. Jeremy thought he understood the war, but his complicated friendship with Charlie soon proves to him that the black-and-white words in a newspaper can’t begin to capture the fear and misery behind the articles. Like so many would-be heroes, Jeremy soon learns to see beyond the propaganda when his friends lie dying around him and his enemies save his life.

The three young people who survive The Storm Before Atlanta represent thousands of real people who lived, loved, suffered, and died during the bloodiest conflict in American history, an internal war that pitted brother against brother and friend against friend.

Karen Schwabach does a masterful job of bringing history to life in this superbly crafted novel. Her pacing, plot, and characterization are spot-on, the vivid descriptions of battlefield life and death perfectly balanced with dialog and setting.

While in history class we learn the cold facts of the American Civil War, The Storm Before Atlanta brings the harsh truth to life with sharp-edged clarity and bold personalities that draw readers into the soul of the conflict. Teachers will surely add The Storm Before Atlanta to their required reading lists. This page-turner is also an educational experience that will engage young readers and generate excited discussion for the classroom.
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