Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review: A Light In the Storm by Karen Hesse

Full Title: A Light in the Storm: The Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin of Fenwick Island, Delaware
Author: Karen Hesse
Series: Dear America
Publication Information: New York: Scholastic, 1999.

***SPOILER ALERT: This review will contain spoilers.*** Amelia Martin is the 15-year-old daughter of the assistant lighthouse keeper off the coast of Delaware as this diary begins in late 1860 and continues through 1861. She turns 16 in the book She keeps the first watch at the lighthouse.Delaware is a border state in the issue over slavery. Much of the Southern part of the state is aligned with the South, while the north tends to be more aligned with the Union. A group of runaway slaves makes Amelia realize the magnitude of the differences in her parents. Her mother believes the slaves should be sent back to their owners. Her father believes they should be helped to freedom. While Amelia has agreed with her mother in the past, something about her encounter with them makes her realize that her father is correct. It isn't long before South Carolina secedes from the Union--something that Amelia considers completely unacceptable. Other Southern States follow South Carolina's lead gradually. The tension at home begins to mount. Her mother becomes more withdrawn over time and has physical and medical problems. Her mother eventually moves in with Amelia's ailing grandmother. Her father serves divorce papers on her mother. I really enjoyed this look at the tensions in a divided community due to the war. In several places, Amelia referred to what was happening in Tennessee to Union supporters during this time. Since I live a section of Tennessee that had strong Union sympathies, these mentions were interesting. However, there was some unevenness to the writing. I felt that the author used a 20th century solution to the marriage problem. Divorce was not as commonplace in the 19th century as it is in 21st century America, and while it was not unheard of, they were more difficult to obtain. I felt the author made it too easy, even in the strained relations due to ideologies. I also felt that the diary ended rather abruptly and that its conclusion was in an awkward place and that it should have continued until one of the major events in 1862. I also felt that the Epilogue wrapped things up a little too tidily and left little room for the reader's imagination of what the future might have been for those persons mentioned in the diary. It's a good, but not a great, work of fiction.