Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review of Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Forge. Atheneum, 2010.
In the sequel to Chains, Curzon takes up the story of what happened to Isabel and him after their hair-raising escape from New York City. After a few months together, Curzon finds himself alone and on the run, and almost immediately (and certainly unintentionally) he becomes a soldier in the 16th Massachusetts Regiment of the Northern Continental Army of the United States of America.

This is an integrated regiment, and Curzon's fellow soldiers are a mostly young, friendly bunch (with one notable exception). After spending a hideous winter at Valley Forge, the approach of spring brings hope - until Curzon runs into his former master Bellingham. Bellingham, who had agreed to set him free, reneges on his agreement and forces him back into slavery as his house boy. Surprisingly, Isabel is also a household slave of Bellingham, and together they plot their escape.
Except for that last bit of credulity-straining coincidence, this is a smooth-flowing, quick-paced, extremely satisfying novel. Curzon is a hugely likable chap, with a fine sense of humor and intelligence to match Isabel's own. Unlike Isabel, he isn't inclined by nature to be broody or angry, and so his narration is sprightly and fresh. In fact, although slavery, war, and Valley Forge are not light topics, the tone remains bouyant, reminding me a bit of Mark Twain or Philbrick's The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg (although a different time period, of course).
The details about Valley Forge are fascinating and horrifying. Soldiers went barefoot in the snow, had so few rations that they half-starved, and had to construct their own rough huts with insufficient tools. And yet Curzon loves being a soldier because he is doing it of his own free will and for a cause he believes in. It's only when he is forced back into slavery that Curzon is filled with a smoldering and almost uncontrollable anger.
As with Chains, the reader is plunged right into Curzon's world, circa 1777/1778. Even the typeface has a period look, adding to the verisimilitude of the experience - and yet there is nothing stilted or "old-fashioned" about this novel. It carried me along like a stable boat on a smooth and swift river, and when it ended (at another turning point for Curzon and Isabel), I jumped without pause into Anderson's fabulous, informative appendix.
We stil don't know the fate of Isabel's little sister Ruth, much less what will happen to Isabel and Curzon, so I'm waiting eagerly for part 3!
Highly recommended for ages 11 to 15.

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