I first learned of Avi‘s new book, Sophia’s War: A Tale of the Revolution through a Read Aloud Thursday post at Homeschool Discoveries. Kirsten’s review definitely made me eager to read this book myself, and having read a few of Avi’s many, many books in the past, I knew to expect an exciting and briskly-paced middle grade story. I was not disappointed.
At the beginning of the novel, Sophia Calderwood is a twelve year old girl living in New York during the time of the American Revolution. She lives with her parents and her older brother, William, whom she loves and adores with complete devotion. William is an intelligent seventeen year old young man who has given himself to the Patriot cause. Mr. and Mrs. Calderwood, although older and more cautious, also support the Patriot cause. As the story opens, William is missing and Mrs. Calderwood and Sophia are making their way back to their city home after having evacuated for a while due to the fighting. When they return home, they learn that their home has been requisitioned for the billeting of British soldiers, William is missing, and Mr. Calderwood is having considerable difficulty getting back to the city. Into this scenario comes their assigned boarder, the Lieutenant John André. André is handsome and educated and pays courtly attention to the female presence in the Calderwood home, namely to Sophia. Sophia is flattered and totally smitten with this dashing officer. Of course, her feelings are quite conflicted; after all, he is the enemy, and his army, as it turns out, is holding her brother William a prisoner. When André refuses to help get William released from prison, Sophia decides that she must do everything within her power to help William herself. When that fails, Sophia throws herself into the Patriot cause with her whole heart. The book skips ahead a few years at this point, and we meet a fifteen year old Sophia who willingly becomes a spy for the American cause. This decision throws her into the heart of a turning point in history. To say more than this would reveal too much in an entirely plot-driven story, so I’ll just recommend it as a great upper middle grade read for a history-loving child who also loves a good adventure.
Avi explores not only a turning point in the American Revolution, but also the idea of revenge and how there are many faces and sides to a war. I like that–it’s more than just an exciting, fast-paced story, but it can also provoke thought. Throughout the story I thought (and still think) that the character of Sophia isn’t really developed very much, which I know is for the sake of the extremely fast-moving story. For example, the reader never sees her out of her element as a Patriot or spy; we never read about her friends or her interests or what she does in any free time we might have. For someone like me who appreciates a character-driven story, this might be seen as a weakness. However, I had almost forgiven this weakness of the story thanks to its slam-bang ending; while I can’t say I didn’t see it coming, I think Avi did a fabulous job of wrapping this very plot-driven story up with some philosophical and emotional strings in the end. The historical note reveals that two of the three plot threads in this story are historically accurate, and that Avi particularly wanted to reveal the terrible conditions of the British prisons for American soldiers during the Revolution. He does this and much, much more in this exciting tale. Sophia’s War almost–but not quite–scratched the itch I have for the next Seeds of America book by Laurie Halse Anderson (my reviews of the first two, which I highly recommend, are here and here). I give Sophia’s War a Highly Recommended as a companion to a study of the American Revolution or for anyone who just enjoys a good adventure. (Beach Lane Books, 2012)
(Side note: Isn’t that a great book cover? I admit book covers aren’t something I always really notice, but I’m beginning to pay more attention. The silhouette of a young woman’s head with a noose superimposed over it is perfect for this story.)