________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 5 . . . . November 1, 2002


George Johnson’s War.

Maureen Garvie and Mary Beaty.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood, 2002.
244 pp., pbk. & cl., $12.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (cl.).
ISBN 0-88899-468-0 (pbk.), ISBN 0-88899-465-6 (cl.).

Subject Headings:
Johnson, George, 1768-ca.1826-Juvenile fiction.
United States-History-Revolution, 1775-1783-Juvenile fiction.
Canada-History 1775-1783-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 7-9 / Ages12-14.

Review by Gail de Vos.

*** /4


As soon as they were back on the wharf, the prisoners were marched aboard, a dozen captured rebels shipped to Montreal for trading. One had his arm in a sling and a patch over his blinded eye. His clothes were rags. I stared at him in horror.

The rag-man whirled about on the gangplank. “Good-day to you, Mistress Johnson!” he called back to Mother. “A pleasure to see ye looking so well. And all your mewling brats too. May ye burn in hell, the lot of yez!”

He lifted both his arms in chains and shook them. A soldier shouted and prodded him with his musket. Jost Kellock - for it was he - spat in the water and shuffled forward. I trembled as the rest of the men marched by in chains and vanished below-decks.

“Cast off!” the mate cried. The sailors threw off the ropes to the wharf where Mother and our sisters stood. Peggy ran to the rail to wave.

But I did not wave. I could not look at Mother, who was sending me away on that same ship with the monster who cursed us. I did not want to go to school in Montreal. She was sending me as far from the action as she could, shipped off to be a silly scholar.

George Johnson, is, at the beginning of this story, a six-year old boy filled with the delight of his charmed childhood. His father, Sir William Johnson, is wealthy and very influential with the government while his Mohawk mother is a respected leader in her own right as well as the elder sister of Chief Joseph Brant. George’s problems seem fairly mundane: his older and only brother, Peter, is going away and leaving him at the mercy of all their sisters. Peter’s departure, however, is only the first event that radically changes George’s world and propels him and his family from his secure world of privilege to one of nomadic refugees. The novel, narrated by George at different stages of his early life, is divided into three main episodes: family life in Johnstown, New York in 1773; the retreat to Molly’s home in the Mohawk Valley, 1777; and George’s school and war experiences in Montreal in 1781. The novel, well researched and told in an almost dispassionate tone, is alive with historical characters, battles and events. It is filled, also, with a strong sense of character and history and in this telling, George’s story is really as much his mother’s story as it is his. The reader follows the family fortune from the death of Sir William, as the war progresses and neighbours are pitted against neighbours, to the various strategies that Molly endeavors as she tries to salvage her children’s future along with those of native peoples. George’s own experiences are overshadowed with his need for the return of his older brother who is a war hero as well as his personal one. Almost all of George’s activities are undertaken in order to follow Peter’s footsteps to be a King’s man. It is not until 13-year-old George’s dreams seem to be fulfilled and he makes the circular journey to his childhood home as a soldier that George discovers the meaning of war and destruction.

     George’s war is one of realization and growth. His story touches upon a myriad of rationales for the struggles for power and freedom and allows the reader a glimpse into the underside of battles, parental concerns, and Native issues on both sides of the border. While little personal information is known about Molly and her children save for a few portraits and letters from Peter to his family, the authors have successfully brought the characters to life without giving them a contemporary outlook. To aid the reader in further understanding this historical era, they have included a historical note, a time line and an annotated listing of historical characters. The authors state: “This is an imagined story about the following real people. All other characters are fictional, though their names may be taken from historical records.” They also include a reading list for other novels that explore the war from other points of view. George Johnson’s War may be one of the few novels, however, that focuses on a native perspective of the War for American Independence.


Gail de Vos, who teaches at the School of Library and Information Studies for the University of Alberta in Edmonton, is the author of six books on storytelling and folklore.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364