Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sophia's War: A Tale of the Revolution by Avi

Avi has always been a favorite in our house and his latest book, Sophia's War, is another addition to his oeuvre of historical fiction that doesn't fail to satisfy.  This time Avi takes the reader back to the American Revolution.

For 12 year old Sophia Calderwood, the revolutionary war is personal.  Forced to flee with her mother and father when the British attack and seize lower Manhattan, on her return, Sophia and her mother witness, first, the hanging of Nathan Hale by the British for being a spy and second, the burnt remains of part of their lower New York settlement.  Fortunately, the Calderwood house, though ransacked, is still standing.

Sophia's father had thought it wise to remain at a friend's house in northern Manhattan, but he soon shows up at home with a gunshot in him arm.  It is decided that he will remain sequestered at home for now, since he is a known patriot and needs to recover.  As for Sophia's brother William, a soldier fighting under General Washington, there has been no news of him for a while.

On top of all this, with the British now in charge, the Calderwoods are forced to billet a soldier.  Lieutenant John André, handsome, cultured and kind, arrives at their door and Sophia is immediately taken in by his attention and many charms.
"In short, having never met so well bred and civilized a man as John André, I was greatly flattered by the attention.  Indeed, I was nothing less than enthralled." (pg 56)
When Sophia lets slip to John André the her brother is a patriot, he lets her know that he will keep the information to himself, and that he will do whatever he can to help her family.  So naturally, when Sophia discovers her brother seriously ill and starving in one of the British prisons known for their deplorable conditions,  she is sure John André will help him.

The news that John André has been ordered to go to Staten Island immediately, prompts the Calderwoods to ask if he will help William.  When Sophia confronts him about this, he tells her he cannot do anything, that his honor as a British officer is the most important thing in the world to him.  But when Sophia reminds him that he had promised that, if needed, he would anything he could for her, he responds that a promise to a 12 year old is not like a pledge to a lady, and that she is not yet a lady.

Shaken to her core by this, Sophia vows to save William.

Fast forward to 1780, the war is still being fought.  Sophia is now 15, working in a print shop to help her family out.  There, because she can read, she is recruited as a spy for the Americans.  Placed in the home of British General Clinton as a housemaid, she is asked to report any information she finds.  But just as she discovers a plot of treasonous proportions involving an American general and her old friends John André, the person she reports to has disappeared for safety reasons.

What to do with all this information?  Here is Sophia's opportunity to get revenge on John André for failing to help William by exposing the plot she has uncovered.  Can a young 15 year old succeed against all odds and possibly change the tide of the war?

Sophia's War was an exciting book to read.  Avi has taken a real event of the American Revolution that has many aspects to it that have never been explained and offers a cogent explanation.  And why not?  This is what historical fiction is all about.  All the places and events, as well as most of the characters in Sophia's War are real and you will probably recognize them from history lessons.  It is told in the voice of  self-conscious narrator Sophia, who directly addresses her readers in several places, making it sound plausible, while at the same time reminding us she is a fiction.

I thought this was one of Avi's best novels and I have loved all of them.  My one reservation about Sophia's War was the revenge aspect of her motivation.  But, of course, in the end, there is much to learn from Sophia's motivations.  Do read this novel is you enjoy good historical fiction.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was borrowed from Webster Branch of the NYPL

Simon & Schuster offer a reading guide for Sophia's War including Common Core Standards here.

This is book 1 of my 2013 American Revolution Reading Challenge hosted by War Through the Generations.
This is book 3 of my 2013 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry

24 comments:

  1. Lovely review! I loved your synopsis.
    I think the revenge aspect is something kids thoroughly understand, and will feel as deserved, under the circumstances. But I also got the feeling that in the end, the revenge didn't seem to sit well with Sophia either.

    Here is my review: http://www.inhabitingbooks.com/2012/10/sophias-war-tale-of-revolution-by-avi.html

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    1. Nice review, Megan. I am glad you nominated for a Cybil. It is such an interesting story and a great use of a historical event that had some missing pieces to it.

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  2. My kids and I bounced off _Fighting Ground_ (we thought the boy was super dumb, usually in ways that obviously pushed the plot forward), but I usually like Avi so maybe we'll give his American History a second chance.

    I have a vague memory of another Sophie book about the American Revolution; she's a girl who also spies while working as a maid. I think she was African American. O History Expert, have you heard of this? It's probably more of an early chapter book, aimed maybe around 3rd grade?

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    1. I definitely think this is worth reading, even if one is not an Avi fan. I can't recall any other book about the American Revolution with a characterer named Sophia, but I have a vague recollection of a story similar to what you describe. The American Revolution really is my area of expertise, which is why I joined the reading challenge at War Through the Generations.

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  3. I love books like this, especially ones that use real life people as characters. They have a way of bringing history to life and this sounds like a good one. Going on my list of books for my daughter when she's older! Great review, Alex.

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    1. I agree and I am sure you and your daughter will like this when she is older. Avi has a great way of bringing his characters to life.

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  4. Great review - really made me want to read it. And thanks as well for the link to the reading guide with common core standards - that was interesting!

    So glad you're part of the comment challenge!
    best,
    Lee

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    1. Thanks, Lee, this is my third year participating int ee comment challenge and I always find new blogs to read. Thanks for hosting it again with MotherREader.

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  5. I love the cover and Avi! I must read this one! It sounds great and then I can recommend it to my students during our HF unit. ;)

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    1. I love the cover of this, too and when you read the book, it takes on a double meaning - the hanging that Sophia witnessed and...Oop, I almost gave away too much.

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  6. I usually notice the new books by Avi, but I hadn't heard of this one. It sounds like a great read - and what a gripping cover!

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    1. It is excellent and I also thought the cover gripping. I'm not sure when this book came out, but it was 2012 and your year was pretty busy, as I recall.

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  7. Glad you liked this one! I snagged it from the library to read for the challenge and hope to get to it before I have to bring it back. We'll get your review on WTTG soon.

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    1. Thanks, Anna. It's a quick read, mostly because it is so interesting. I really enjoyed it.

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  8. Wow! This book sounds exciting! I love Avi and though I usually don't like books on war, this sounds like a must read!

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    1. Ironically, I don't like war books that are about fighting the enemy, but this is more like a home front book to me, what life was life in NYC during the Revolutionary War and how it impacted Sophia made this book for me. Although the spying part was pretty exciting.

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  9. Excellent review. You convinced me to read it. It's on my list. I like many of Avi's books, some more than others. Generally, he does a good job of taking a reader back in time and telling a compelling story.

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    1. Thanks, Cora. I think Avi does a pretty decent job on historical fiction. I loved his two WW2 books that I read for this blog. I hope you enjoy Sophia's War.

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  10. Isn't Avi astounding? It seems he can bounce into any genre & really nail it. I imagine it's taken a whole heap of work on his part, but the books read as though it all comes naturally & effortlessly. Great review - thanks.

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    1. Thanks, CS, I totally agree with you on how well Avi handles the various kinds of books he writes. He is very versatile, and this is not exception to his ability.

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  11. Alex, every single one of your reviews makes me want to the read the book in question, and this is no exception.

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  12. Holy man, if the book is even half as exciting as your review, it has to be good.

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  13. It's been quite awhile since I've read anything by Avi, but based on your review, this sounds like a good one. I'm adding it to my list! Great post!

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  14. I think this is an excellent post about an important topic. I had a roommate in college who talked about this all the time. He would really enjoy it. I am going to share with everyone your wonderful site.

    Do I sound like a robot yet? Can you tell I am catching up on my blog reading?

    Seriously, I do like Avi and I especially like the tone of the quote you included. Sounds so right for the time period.

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