Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Continuing adventures of Curzon and Isabel, slaves during the American Revolutionary War. Great research, a wonderful voice from the central character, and clever writing that avoids anachronism but maintains accessibility.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: January 2011
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1408803801

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We left Curzon and Isabel at the end of Chains, just after they'd escaped slavery in New York at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. We pick up again with Curzon - Isabel has run off to find her sister - stumbling slap bang into the middle of the Battle of Saratoga. Cornered into enlisting into the Patriot army, Curzon isn't blind to the ironies in his situation as a slave fighting for the freedom of white men. The army, flushed with victory, marches off to its winter encampment at Valley Forge, and Curzon's life takes a turn for the worse yet again as he and his comrades find themselves with no accommodation and no supplies of clothes, boots or food. But he does meet up with Isabel again.

Can these two strong characters forge a relationship that is more than a friendship borne of desperation, as Curzon hopes? And does their freedom lie at the end of the Patriot army's search for its very different brand of liberty?

British children may not know much about Valley Forge, but it was truly a turning point in the Revolutionary War. If those soldiers hadn't borne so much - starvation, sickness, freezing conditions - they perhaps would not have become the professional army that eventually won the war. So perhaps even more for a British readership than an American one, Anderson's impeccable research is both vital and illuminating. She describes the rations - firecake, a mix of water and flour and hard enough to break rats' teeth - and all the other quotidien details that together bring home the scale of the suffering and commitment to the cause.

And of course, there's that other sort of freedom - the freedom from slavery. While Curzon manages to keep his status a secret for a long time, he's discovered eventually, and then we see that even starving as a soldier but a free man is better than being a slave.

Anderson pitches the book perfectly. The research, superb as it is, never gets in the way of the narrative and she's found the perfect balance between an authentic period voice and accessibility. Forge is a worthy successor to Chains and I'm looking forward to the final part of the trilogy immensely.

My thanks to the good people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.

Jupiter Williams by S I Martin talks about life for black people in London during the same historical period. Children interested in black history shouldn't miss the Mildred D Taylor classic Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

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