CM . . .
. Volume IX
Number 5 . . . . November 1, 2002
George Johnson’s War.
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.).
Johnson, George, 1768-ca.1826-Juvenile fiction.
United States-History-Revolution, 1775-1783-Juvenile fiction.
Canada-History 1775-1783-Juvenile fiction.
7-9 / Ages12-14.
by Gail de Vos.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
on this title or this review, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
The Manitoba Library Association
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