I told you last week about an interview with Decatur author Amanda C. Gable, and her upcoming events at the Decatur Book Festival and Blue Elephant Bookshop.
Thought you might want to see the review of her new novel, “The Confederate General Rides North.” It ran in Sunday’s AJC, but didn’t appear on the Web site. (Until now. Mwahaha.)
Young heroine fights own war
By Soyia Ellison
Eleven-year-old Katherine McConnell and her gorgeous mother are speeding up Virginia’s back roads in a white Impala, singing along to Aretha Franklin and keeping one eye on the trailer of antiques in their wake.
It’s the summer of 1968. Southern blacks are fighting for civil rights, and American soldiers are fighting in Vietnam. But young Kat is captivated by an entirely different war, one fought almost a hundred years before she was born.
That’s why this trip — her first into Yankee territory — is so exciting. She will finally get to see the Civil War sites that she’s only read about: Appomattox, Manassas, Harper’s Ferry, Gettysburg.
But even through her excitement, she can see that something’s not quite right.
Why didn’t her mother tell her about this antique-hunting trip to Maine beforehand? Why couldn’t she say goodbye to her father or her grandparents? Why is her mom using a fake name at motels?
Adult readers will realize what’s going on long before Kat does. And they will worry for her.
Kat, who like first-time novelist Amanda C. Gable hails from Marietta, is a bright little girl who has been forced to grow up too soon but who is still too young to know it.
In her heartbreaking but hopeful story, Gable transitions seamlessly from the road trip to Kat’s troubled home life to Civil War battlefields and back again. And every few pages, she takes us inside the head of her young heroine, who transforms the events and worries of the moment into her fantasy life, where she is a star Confederate general.
Here, Kat tries to cope with her mother’s revelation that she doesn’t ever want to go back to the South:
“The Confederate General is troubled by the thought that President Davis isn’t giving her complete information about his military strategy. She’s desperate to know everything and it hurts her that he may not trust her enough to share what he’s planning. Because of her sacrifices, he owes it to her to keep her informed. She is his top general! She stands up abruptly, her sword banging against her chair. ‘You will give me all the information you have from now on.’ Davis blinks and nods yes.”
It might seem odd that a child would find comfort in imagining herself in the middle of a bloody civil war. But, we come to see, she prefers a real war that’s in the past to a metaphorical one in the present.
In Civil War books, she says, “everything written and drawn there has already happened; its order will never change and I don’t have to guess at how things will turn out.”
Gable lightens her dark story with a collection of eccentric but kind strangers — a Southern specialty — who make Kat’s world just a little better. Local readers get the added bonus of references to familiar spots. Kat recalls outings to Braves games when they were still held in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, vacations in Jekyll Island and, of course, glimpses of Marietta’s Big Chicken.
But the story comes to a head in Gettysburg, a turning point in the Civil War and in the life of Kat, who begins to understand that war isn’t as glamorous as she’s imagined and that some problems are too big even for the imaginary general she pretends to be.
And it’s in Gettysburg that her mother tells her, “You know, sugar, there aren’t as many times when you get older that you’ll be as happy as you are when you’re eleven.”
We’re left with the hope, though, that for someone as resilient and intelligent as Kat, the best is yet to come. Much as we hope the same for Gable, her talented creator.