Sunday, June 6, 2010

"The Secret of Sarah Revere" by Ann Rinaldi

Summary: Sarah Revere, the daughter of the famous American patriot Paul Revere, has a secret.  But in her household, there are a lot of secrets, including what her father really knows about who made the first shot at the Battle of Lexington and Concord.  The novel follows Sarah and her family at the beginning of the American Revolution as they navigate the changes shaping the country's history forever.

Musings: I read almost no genre historical fiction, but a student recommended Rinaldi's books and loaned me several to try.  Unfortunately, the books sat on my shelf for almost the entire school year until I realized I had to read one so I could return her copies before summer break!

Funnily enough, my students would probably get more out of the historical setting than I did.  My students often ask me questions about basic U.S. history, and I have to tell them that they've had history much more recently than I have--while they probably had it yesterday, I haven't taken a U.S. history course since high school (I scored high on the AP US History text and thus was exempted from college courses in the subject).  Nonetheless, Rinaldi does a good job of situating her story within a famous part of history while also offering a new and nuanced view of that event.  In fact, Paul Revere's famous ride is only a small part of the story.  Instead, Rinaldi focuses on overlooked areas: How did Revere's large family feel about his actions?  In what ways did family members' beliefs about the revolutionary activities differ?  How did an event that is so mythologized now appear to those who actually lived it?  There is no rabid patriotic sentiment; instead, each character must grapple with his/her personal beliefs and balance those beliefs with the needs for his/her family.  Revere himself is made into an ordinary man rather than a comic book hero of history textbooks.

However, the book was too simple and slow for my tastes.  Sarah is a flat character for me, and her "secret" is truthfully boring.  The main theme of the novel is "What matters?  What's true?  Or what people think?".  If you decide to read this book and forget the theme by the time you do read it, don't worry: the theme is repeated in nearly every chapter.  Word for word.  Again and again.  I've no problem with books with messages, but young people are smart enough to pick up on them on their own.  Very little happens throughout the course of the novel.

I appreciate Rinaldi's use of history to create a new story, but would only recommend this novel to history buffs desiring an easy read.

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