CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 16. . . .December 20, 2013
Brothers at War.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2013.
203 pp., pbk. & EBK, $7.99 (pbk).
ISBN 978-1-4431-1382-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4431-2848-3 (EBK).
Canada-History-War of 1812-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Libby McKeever.
He doesn't turn around.
"Eli!" Stones crunch beneath my feet.
I reach out for his arm and he spins around. I stop cold. He's never looked at me like me this before: mouth taut as a fishing line.
"You bushwacked me."
"Eli, I was trying to protect you."
He scoffs. "I don't trust you no more you traitor." He spits out the last word and it stings like lye.
"If you let me explain -- "
"Don't matter to me none. We're pulling heel."
Pulling heel. We're moving back south."
"What?" This must be the news Mina would not tell me. "When?"
"Soon as Pa sells the tannery. We're through with this town. Through with the magistrates. Through with the bullies. And now I'm though with you."
When Jacob is chosen to be on William's snowball team, he thinks he's made it. Everyone wants to be friends with the magistrate's son. Soon enough though, Jake is grouped with Eli, the new boy, the one who smells like a tannery, the one who talks funny, and the one whom William calls 'turd boy.' But is Eli who rescues Jake when his trapped in a ditch during the fight. In turn, Jake is the one who takes up William's dare which would see Eli run across the frozen river to Fort Niagara on the US side.
In doing so, Jake falls through the ice and is thankfully saved by General Isaac Brock and Eli. It is this action that spurs the boys to become blood brothers. Eli's father, Mr. McCabe, moved his family to Upper Canada after the US War of Independence. He bought the local tannery and was ready to settle down to a nonpartisan life. All too soon though, it is apparent Mr. McCabe needs to swear loyalty to his new country, something he won't abide.
Influenced by the political attitudes of their parents, the local business leaders, the children make life difficult both for Jake and Eli. When Jake thwarts Eli's plans for retribution, saving him from committing a serious crime against their aggressors, Eli won't forgive him. But even after this perceived betrayal, the boys come together again as sworn blood brothers when they learn the business leaders mean to bar people from coming to vote, an action which would see a change in local politics.
Brothers at War is an exciting historical tale that enables the reader to relive life in Upper Canada as rising tensions pit neighbour against neighbour. The looming threat of war taxes friendships, and decisions need to made to either do what is right or what is safe.
Author Don Cummer has written a wonderful historical story. The reader will feel invested in the characters and enjoy the rise and fall of tension as the story progresses through an ebb and pull of loyalties and intrigue. Cummer has captured the historical essence perfectly by way of imagery, sight and smells, as well as the tone and speech of his characters. Brothers at War would be a good companion to grade 5–7 social studies curriculum.
Don Cummer's short story, "The Burying Grounds," won The Writers' Union of Canada Writing for Children Competition in 2012. Brothers at War is Cummer's first novel, and he has plans to follow the adventures of Jake and Eli through the War of 1812.
Libby McKeever is the Youth Services Librarian at the Whistler Public Library in Whistler, BC.
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