The story of Sarah Emma Edmonds, who masqueraded as a man named Frank Thompson during the Civil War. Among her many adventures, she was a nurse on the battlefield and a spy for the Union Army, and was captured by (and escaped from) the Confederates. The novel is narrated by Sarah, offering readers an in-depth look not only at the Civil War but also at her journey to self-discovery as she grapples with living a lie and falling in love with one of her fellow soldiers.
Marissa Moss has written more than seventy books, from picture books to middle-grade and young adult novels. Best known for the Amelia's Notebook series, her books are popular with teachers and children alike. Her picture book Barbed Wire Baseball won the California Book Award gold medal. Moss is also the founder of Creston Books, an independent children's publishing house.
What it says on the tin: this is the story of a young woman who ran away from her life, and created a new one wearing trousers. Her life as a girl was intolerable, so she reinvented herself as a man, and when the Civil War came along she, or rather he, enlisted in a spirit of determined patriotism, and became the best soldier in his unit – and a nurse, devoted to his patients, and postmaster (which I never really realized was so dangerous) and attaché and Union spy. And in two years of service to the Union (almost) no one ever even suspected Frank Thompson was actually a girl named Sarah.
I'm not sure what this book is, exactly. (Besides received from Netgalley - thank you to them and the publisher.) It's based on historic fact, which could make it historical fiction. Moreover, it's based on the life of a real individual, so maybe it could be called a fictional biography – but no, it's in the first person, so maybe a fictional memoir. Except that the individual in question, a woman named Sarah Emma Edmonds, wrote a memoir of her own in 1864, so it's a little odd to have a novelized version.
I read this with the understanding that it was based on a true story, and the notes following the book emphasize this:
Although more than four hundred women are known to have dressed as men to fight in the Civil War, most of them were joining husbands, brothers, fathers, or fiancés. They had someone to help with their disguise and share the burden of their secret. Sarah Emma Edmonds was the only one known to have lived as a man before enlisting.
(The numbers I've seen regarding women who served in the Civil War in disguise actually range from something like 250 to 700, so four hundred is a happy median.)
But immediately after stressing the truth of the story, the author reveals that a major event at the end of the book was a complete fabrication, almost exactly the opposite of what really happened. The end of the story is not how the story ended. So, while "the bones of the story are all true", this event at the end "seemed like something that should have happened, and the advantage of fiction is that you can choose the shape of the story".
Yes, but – this isn't fiction. Not really. It's fictionalized. And I have a problem with the change that was made. Problems. For one, I don't see making a change this big at the end of the story of a woman few have heard of as any more acceptable than, say, changing the end of a certain evening in April 1864 to have John Wilkes Booth miss his shot, or than saying that eventually Thomas Jefferson freed and married Sally Hemings. Or to have Henry VIII say "You know, that Catherine is actually rather nice. I believe I'll go back to her and be a good husband." If a writer takes on the task of writing about a life, about an individual's existence, to make a change just because it feels like what should have happened is, in my opinion, intellectually dishonest. It breaks faith with the subject of the writing.
The other side of it is that now I have doubts about everything else in the book. There are some highly improbable events in the story, and the story as a whole is improbable, and I went along with all of it because, I was assured, it was all based on history. But. If that last really quite large happening never happened, I'm inclined to doubt the rest, however much the author assures me it's faithful. There was so much luck running through it – sheer dumb luck that kept Sarah/Frank from major injury in battle, not to mention from discovery – that it became a little hard to swallow; s/he glided through the War like the Maryest of Sues, able to do absolutely anything they set her to: she was a crack shot, a born rider, a gentle and patient nurse with an iron nerve, a natural spy, a daring messenger, and no more concerned about killing the enemy than the next man. So to speak. Very shortly she had everyone thinking Frank was the best fellow ever, and in the two years she fought only completely coverable glitches occurred, and – as I said, almost no one ever even entertaining a suspicion that Frank wasn't what he seemed to be in two years of sleeping and eating and everything else in close quarters with no real privacy. Only the "but she really existed!" thing kept me going. Once there was a hole knocked in that, all bets were off.
Image of Sarah Emma Edmundson (or Sarah Edmonds) as "Frank Thompson" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The point is played up that all the names in the book are true to life, that Sarah Emma Edmonds/Frank Thompson did indeed serve in the same unit with Damon Stewart (hmm) and Jerome Robbins (!) and so on. But I wish the real names had not been used. I feel like this would have been a more honest novel – more honest as a novel – if the heroine had been named Jane Doe calling herself Joe Schmoe, and bunked with a lad named John Doe and fell in love with Richard Roe. Or something. My understanding is that Sarah's experience served as the backbone of the book, and the plot was filled in with bits and pieces and shreds and patches from other tales of others of the four hundred women. If this had been straightforwardly presented as a composite portrait, leaning heavily on Sarah but not trying to revivify Sarah, I feel it would have been a much better book – a cleaner book, in a way.
Another way to keep it honest would have been to simply tell Sarah's story without messing about with facts.
You can't have it both ways. You can't preen about how factual the story is and then say "well except for this bit here which I just didn't like the historical reality of".
Finally, and this is purely a personal reaction, I find it very sad that Frank's way of proving his masculinity was to tell dirty stories and spit and scratch and fart.
This is the story of Sarah Emma Edmonds, who masqueraded as a man named Frank Thompson during the Civil War. Among her many adventures, she was a nurse on the battlefield and a spy for the Union Army, and was captured by (and escaped from) the Confederates. The novel is narrated by Sarah, offering readers an in-depth look not only at the Civil War but also at her journey to self-discovery as she grapples with living a lie and falling in love with one of her fellow soldiers.
This book intrigued me with the story of a real woman who fought in the Civil War. I have to say I was impressed by the level of dedication the author put into telling as close a rendition of Sarah's real story as it really happened, choosing to only describe the battles in which she or her unit were involved in. This made the story seem more realistic and really kept me interested in Sarah's story. Although the author does admit that some parts of her story are changed ever so slightly from what actually happened (won't tell you what you have to read it to find out), much of the descriptions, journal entries and much of the 'plot' (you have to remember this was a real war) actually come from the diaries of the soldiers in Sarah's regiment. This brings an unvarnished feel to the writing style, not bothering to cover up or romanticize just how gruesome this war really was. Overall, I would call this one of the best written, closest to the truth historical fiction novels I have ever read.
The book started out well, and after a few chapters I felt it going downhill. The story kept changing, and when it wasn't changing it was repetetive. Alot of the descriptions were a waist of time and I just skipped passages at a time (Something I never do).
I've always been fascinated by the American Civil War era and I love historical fiction, so of course I was drawn to this title. However, it wasn't what I was hoping for. While the real-life narrator is a fascinating subject, the way the book was written just didn't work for me. A lot of the book is spent in Sarah's head as she struggles to figure out who she is. That's completely understandable, and fine up to a point. But eventually, it got repetitive. Then when there was action, there was real, gritty action - too gruesome for my tastes. My favorite parts were definitely the spying bits. Those were pretty interesting, though it felt like some of them could have been fleshed out more, had less time been spent on the other stuff. I stuck with it because I wanted to see how Sarah's story turned out in the end. I guess I was mostly satisfied, though it felt a bit depressing.
I suppose, if I knew nothing about Sarah Emma Edmonds/Frank Thompson, if I knew nothing of women who disguised themselves to fight in the Civil War, if I enjoyed sappy romances....I might have enjoyed the story. But I didn't. Because Sarah Emma Edmonds/Frank Thompson was one of my heroines growing up. I read fictitious stories, biographies, any story I could get my hands on about her or the females who disguised themselves to fight. And so while I picked this book up with deep interest, I should have realized that my experience in the subject would be somewhat alienating. Though I am no where near as much an expert on her as I am on Mary, Queen of the Scots or the Lincoln assassination, I have a general knowledge that was slightly skeptical of this story. On top of just little things, like the creative license taken with Sarah, three things specifically bothered me. 1. The writing. The first person style worked...to a point. It was rather limiting, though. Confusing. It's not quite a memoir, yet full of 'flash backs' so that it's hard to pin it down. Cluttered at times. I didn't really like it. 2. This was the real big one...the romance. There isn't much of an actual story here, as much as a girl disguising herself as a boy and getting all sappy over a soldier. A soldier who can never love her....just all confusing and weird. True love isn't all about the emotional hype, and that's all there is here. Butterflies and un-returned longing and....yeah. It got old because the story could have been so much more. It could have reflected an independent young woman fighting for her country and being creative and courageous. Instead, we mostly get her mooning over a guy. 3. The modern mindset was also glaringly distracting. This is a personal pet peeve. Sarah has nothing good to say about being female. She's all about independence, being her own person...all good things! Yet I cannot help but be skeptical of how much our 'modern' mindset on femininity would have entered her thoughts. Distracting at best, downright irritating at worst.
So....there is a better retelling out there. I mean, it wasn't a bad story. Probably someone else's cup of tea. Just not my idea of good historical fiction
This was originally a 5 star read for me, but I knocked a star off because the author changing the ending of Sarah's life really bothered me, but more on that in a minute.
I loved this book, the topic is fascinating and I am SO HAPPY to see a YA Historical Fiction title based on a female spy during the Civil War that actually existed. On top of that, it was about my 2nd favorite female spy to read about (Sorry Elizabetn Van Lew is still my fav! She's local!) My favorite part about this story is how true to Sarah Emma Edmonds life Marissa Moss tried to stay, until the end of the book. Because of the romantic feelings Sarah feels towards Jerome, Marissa changed how Sarah's life ended instead of having her married to her husband she has him die early and reunite with Jerome- because (as she states in the end notes) "it seemed like something that should have happened". While I am a romantic and agree that they should have ended up together, Sarah's husband outlived her and they built the home for veterans that Sarah dreamed of. To me, that is still a happy ending. But that is just me and it bothered me enough to knock a star off the review.
Other than the ending, I really loved this book. Moss does a wonderful capturing the insanity of battle and how Sarah might have felt as a woman dressed as a man, surrounded by men. I especially enjoyed the meeting between Sarah "Frank" and Pauline Cushman.
I highly recommend this book to any lover of historical fiction-- or someone who wants a story about a strong woman.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Mrs. Prodoehl Block 4 Lauren D Quarter 3 Book Review on A Soldier’s Secret Lexile Value: 860 A soldier's Secret by Marissa Moss is written in the first-person point of view of Sara Edmonds, a civil war hero. While this book is fiction, Sarah Edmonds really did live during the Civil War, and some of the books events actually took place. Sarah Edmonds, as a child was raised on a farm in Canada along with her mother, father, and brother. Sarah's father was very physically and verbally abusive towards his family. Sarah had to step up to fill her brother shoes because he was physically incapable. As a child Sarah did such things as hunting, breaking horses, taking care of livestock, and other farm-related things. Sarah left the farm at a very young age to flee an arranged marriage. Her father had arranged this marriage to a very seniored man in trade for a piece of land. Sarah left the farm at age sixteen, put on her brother's clothes, and changed her name to Frank Thompson. Frank for three years, after leaving, was a traveling book salesman. At the age of nineteen she first tried to sign up to join the Army. She was turned down, for the recruiter believed she sixteen because of her soft skin and large brown eyes, they made her “look more boy than man”. The next day, Frank attempted again, this time it was a different recruit that barely took a second look at her. All the recruiter asked was if she could read and write, she then told him she wanted to work as a field nurse. She would now be known as private Frank Thompson in Company F, Second Michigan Volunteer Infantry of the Army of the Potomac. Frank then moved to camp in Washington where more than one hundred thousand other soldiers are also camped. Frank made friends with her tent mate, Damon and they did lots of there orders and drills together. When Damon and other soldiers are gambbeling, drinking, and fighting she steers clear of them. Instead, Frank will do drills, eat meals, clean artillery, and patch clothes with non-intoxicated soldiers. This continues for about four months until the Battle of Bull Run begins. As union starts the up hill battle and so does the chaos. Frank can only do one thing, be a nurse. She runs to every soldier on the ground that she can, hoping there alive. Soon the the chaos changes to fear. The retreat signal is given. Frank rides back to the hospital in Centreville. Frank is horrified by the sight and comes to realize what war actually means, death, pain, and gruesome suffering. Bodies were everywhere, some piled up like fire wood, others on the ground waiting to have an arm or leg amputated. This is where she meet Jerome, a fellow union nurse, and they become great friends. As they spend more and more time together, Frank becomes to like Jerome as more than a friend. This leads to her telling Jerome that she is a woman in disguise. This rattles their friendship for a while but they soon becomes just friends again. Frank eventually leaves the Army due to illness and fear of being found out. Her plan was to return after a month of recovering but, if she was seen as Frank she was to be “Shot on site” for desertion. During the war, Frank served as a soldier, field nurse, a spy, a writer, mail deliverer and, an orderly (the person who delivers messages from general to general during battle). She was the only “...woman to be recognized by acts of Congress as an honorably discharged soldier, with rights to back pay and a pension, and the only women allowed to join the Grand Army of the Republic, the association for Civil War veterans”(pg.366). Sarah/Frank died of malaria in 1898 at the age of fifty-six and “...was the only woman of her era granted a military funeral and is buried in a cemetery for Civil War veterans in Houston. Her headstone simply described her as a NURSE, the role she was proudest of” (pg.367). A soldier's Secret by Marissa Moss is beautifully written, so much so that it feels as if you were actually there, living as Sarah Edmonds, and living her life. Every scene the author presents is so descriptive. It allows you to imagine what it actually was like to be there and to live ans a soldier during the Civil War. Another aspect I am keen about in Sarah’s story is how it glows with the power of women. It is inspiring. It developes a mindset that you can do anything you put your mind to, even if you are descriminated because of you sex. Throughout the novel, Marissa Moss establishes Sarah’s life goal; To be able to stand up for herself, to never back down to fear, and to be able to make her own choices. “I cowered then, as I did whenever Pa had a fit of his ugly temper, hating myself for not fighting back. I was taller than the time he had beaten me in the stable… , but he still had a good eighty pounds on me and fists like hammers. What could I do?”(pg.51). “Now I realize my whole childhood had been a lie, I promise Pa had no intention of keeping” “I just knew I wanted more from life than being harnessed as a mule by a grouchy old man. I'd already had years of that with Pa. I wasn't going to trade one master for another”(pg.52). The only way Sarah could be free from a man, was to become one. It would take an intense amount of bravery, not only to leave home at age sixteen, but also to disguise yourself as a man, considering it was illegal. “I know it's illegal… The law condemns it as ‘ an infringement on the Rights and Privileges of the lords of creation.’ ...men hold a natural position of superiority and women should stay in their place”(pg.55). This book is so well written and it should be a major accomplishment for Marissa Moss. I think A soldier's Secret an awesome book and I would recommend it to anyone over the age of ten because everyone could relate to this story. This book was very unpredictable, it took twists and turns I couldn’t have possibly imagined. The ending was my favorite part but, it was also the part I disliked the most. The ending to the story is the only part the of the story that is not a direct refection of Sarah’s life. Marissa Moss is a beautifully written book and I would definitely read it again.
SPOILERS: Tyler Melton Mr. Herman Issues In Nonfiction November 1, 2018 A Soldier’s Secret In the book “A Soldier’s Secret” you have 1 main character. Her real name is Sarah Edmonds, but in the book, her name is Frank Thompson. The reason for this was because she was serving in the military and at the time, girls weren’t allowed to serve in war. When Sarah was very young she lived with her mother and her father. Sarah and her father never got along. He would always abuse her and hit her. One of Sarah’s ways to cope with her father was to go in their barn. In their barn, they had plenty of animals, but the one that Sarah loved was the horse. This was her way to communicate with the animals. The two have been best friends ever since she was very young. It got to the point in Sarah’s life and eventually had the idea of running away because her father was so mean. After running away she acquired the name, Frank Thompson. At the age of 19 Sarah signs for the Union Army of the Potomac. The reason for this is because she feels that when she was younger she didn’t get the respect and power that she deserves. At first, Sarah loves being apart of the army and then she gets surrounded by death and horror. She then soon finds out that she has to fulfill her duties as a nurse. After becoming a nurse, Sarah decides that she doesn’t want to be a nurse anymore. She hates watching people die. Two days after she quit being a nurse, she gets a call from the General. He wants her to be their new spy. In hopes that while she goes through testing, they don’t find out about her secret. She doesn’t want the general to know that she is a girl. Sarah goes through all of the testing and General states that she is the one for the job. I enjoy this part of the story because it is one of the biggest turning points in the whole book. Sarah is only doing this for respect that she deserves and there are many risks involved. As a spy, Sarah heads over to Potomac base in searching for answers for the enemy’s defense. This mission is very risky. Sarah knows that if she gets spotted, she’s dead. Her plan was to get inside of the base and act almost as like a slave and pretend to be doing work. As she is working she meets a kid. He actually decided to help her by switching jobs. Sarah wanted to get the water from the wells because she knew it was the only way to get inside of their base. This part is the most important because this situation is life or death.
A Soldier's Secret: The Incredible True Story of Sarah Edmonds, Civil War Hero, by: Marissa Moss, is an overall good historical fiction. doing fictional retelling of a young woman searching for a place in the world where it was taboo for things like that at the time. It excelled at retelling the life of Sarah Edmonds, a very interesting person with a long backstory, while still filling in the gaps to tell a good novel, making it good for most people, weather it be for knowledge or story time. I especially enjoyed the real life facts and trivia of the civil war after the story.
However, disliked the very end for it's fast paced, but slows down after a while to fully celebrate Sarah's accomplishments. I also disliked a few factual errors, and while some were believed by Sarah at the time, the ending was partially made up, which overall felt insulting to Sarah and a certain person (I will not say who due to spoilers).
However, it is still a good book, and the pros outweigh the cons, making this an overall good read, solidly at 4/5 stars in terms of quality.
The book I read was a soldier's secret the book was about a girl sarah edmonds. She grew l up on a farm with an abusive father. she then runs away and lives her life as frank thompson a male in the 1800s who works a dangerous job.
What I liked most about the book was the will power of “frank thompson” she feared every moment of what she did but that didn't stop her she fought in the war was a nurse and a spy While in love with her comrade i think the theme the author is trying to portray is “don't judge a book by its cover”. Because the book is about a girl living the life of a boy while everyone thinks she's nothing more than a boy implying you have to dig deep to see the reality of the stuff around you doesn't look like what it seems.
That is why I liked the book because the author is portraying this fearless man doing his job fighting for his country in the war when deep underneath it's just a girl scared to face the true reality of what's happening and to go back to her abusive father and just her family so that is what I liked about the book.
It was a little heavy on the history and not heavy enough on the narrative. I also thought it was interesting that there was so much talk about battles and terrain and not a single map in the book. The story was also heavy on the narrative of all Northerners were good folk fighting to stop slavery and Southerners were often dishonorable and all fighting for the sole goal of maintaining slavery.
Those points aside, the story itself is amazing and the fact that the author tried to make the narrative as close to the historical records as possible, gives it added depth. And despite my assertion that this was historical fiction that was too much history, it wasn't written poorly.
If you are interested in the Civil War at all, I would definitely recommend this. Don't be turned off by the fact that it is labeled a YA book. The story of Frank Thompson/Sarah Emma Edmonds is one you should definitely know. Solid 3 stars.
This was an amazing book, and one that I truly enjoyed because of the time in history the book is set in. The civil war is a topic that really interests me, and I have always loved to read about it, regardless of non fiction or fiction. This was an excellent story telling about a female soldier named Sarah Edmonds, who struggled to disguise herself, while at the same time fitting into the all-man US Army. Her disguise was that of Frank Thompson, and in this disguise she served as a nurse, while undergoing harrowing challenges in the face of constant danger. This was truly a heroic story, and the description of certain scenes really helps you imagine what is going on and what it is like for the characters. I highly recommend this book to civil war fanatics and to anyone looking for a good read.
Changed things up w a YA historical fiction novel - sophie said she read it in 5th grade and it got her so good (in so many words) and said it was worth the read even as a post-grad adult and i totally agree. this was a good push for me in my attempt to expand my genre repertoire. this book was a cool and true story of a woman doing awesome things that also helped me gain a greater understanding of the innards of the civil war and american war/history in general. had me sweaty at multiple parts for sure. ending felt a little sudden, but it had an epilogue that made it feel more complete. overall a solid read (i read more than half of it in one night on my comfy couch, kinda an awesome experience).
Nothing wrong with how a female decided to up and change her whole life and become a boy during that period. That is actually amazing how she decided to do that.
Is just that the story aspect is not interesting, and the author edit her life to the point that only interesting parts were left behind. And like in real life, not everything that is interesting would be amazing. Especially since is in the war period. Which kinds of sucks.
I would not re-read the book, and I would not recommend it unless somebody want to feel inspire to do what she did or had a homework to do about her.
This is young adult historical fiction about a fascinating Civil War soldier. The writing is solid overall and certainly held my attention but is undermined by over-the-top descriptions of the protagonist’s romantic feelings, which I think also weaken the portrayal of an incredible real-life individual. Although I read this book to my 8-yo, it really is a young adult book. Even aside from the violence of war, the book is rife with profanity, and the sexual innuendo is probably inappropriate for most younger children.
La historia me ha encantado, sobre todo sabiendo que es una historia real y que Sarah/Frank existió y luchó en el ejército haciéndose pasar por hombre. Sin embargo, no le puedo dar más nota porque está MUY mal escrito. Ha habido momentos que me he planteado dejarlo y leer en wikipedia cómo termina la historia.
It was enjoyable to read. Sarah Emma Edmunds is an incredible character. I respect her desire to enter the army as a man and fight for her country and her ability to work with all the concerns associated with avoiding discovery.
Sarah Emma Edmonds, also known as Frank Thompson, is one of the bravest people, I believe, that played a role in the Civil War. Her bravery and willpower are larger than anyone else's I know of, even mine. Putting myself in Sarah’s shoes, I would absolutely want to masquerade as a man fighting in the Union army especially after living a life of misery back at her farm in Canada. I can understand Sarah’s strong desire for freedom and to prove herself to the world. I seek adventure and opportunities to help people, just as Sarah did. I want to be just as heroic and brave as she was, and to be a part of something bigger than myself. That feeling of importance and comradery feels almost like a drug, you can’t get enough of it, and being a soldier in a war would give me just that. Even though I may think all that way, still I'm afraid that if I was actually there right in the middle of a battle, I would chicken out. It’s almost impossible to understand what Sarah felt in the middle of a battle, trying to save others while still having to look out for yourself. Under all that pressure to keep your real identity a secret, to be a good soldier, and to be a honorable man, I fear I would crack. To do what Sarah did, over 150 years ago, takes some real guts and I'm not sure I, or many others, have them.
This book is the perfect example of a heroic girl fighting for freedom. This determined 19 year old girl steps out of her abusive household and heads out to war. She finds herself fighting, falling in love and proving what's right and what's wrong.
An easy read about a young woman disguised as a man who fights in the Civil War, and goes on to be a successful female writer. She donated much of her money to helping disabled veterans of all colors and persuasions. I love stories about string and courageous women.
“I know you love your country,” the man says kindly, “but you’ll need to grow up a bit before you join the army.” He looks at my peachy cheeks, free of any sign of a whisker. “We aren’t taking sixteen-year-olds.”
Frank Thompson silently debated with the old man in his head. He realized he looked more like a boy than a man, but he truly was 19-years-old and plenty old enough to fight for the Union. Three years ago he began working and supporting himself with odd jobs as he moved away from what he left behind; because three years ago, Frank Thompson was not an American. Three years ago, Frank Thompson did not exist.
"A Soldier’s Secret" is an historical fiction novel based on the incredible true story of Sarah Emma Edmonds, the only known woman to serve in the Civil War and receive a soldier’s pension. Growing up working on the farm with her father, Sarah is a character than many young girls who choose trucks over dolls can relate to. Sarah was a tomboy, but in the 1800s she was only seen as a misguided girl. At age 16 her abusive father decided it was time for Sarah to start a family of her own (and he could use the money he traded her for) and arranged her to marry Old Man Ludham. When Sarah disagreed, her father hit her like she was his forgetful wife or weak, good-for-nothing son. Once the sky was dark enough to hide her shadow, Sarah snuck out of the house vowing to never let a man push her around again. Before Sarah slipped away from her Canadian farm for good, she slipped on her brother’s pants believing if she looked like a man, she could gain the respect of a man.
Marissa Moss’s novel not only tells a great story about a strong historical female, but Moss also describes the frontlines of the Civil War in great detail. Moss rewrites Sarah Edmond’s story based on her autobiography, Memoirs of a Soldier, Nurse and Spy, along with other first-person documents about her life as Frank Thompson. Thanks to Frank enlisting at the start of the war – they did not question his age the second time around – he witnessed the first shocks from the Battle of Bull Run as young Union men marched into a field of blood. The details of Frank carrying fallen men to the field hospital and sawing off limbs may be gruesome at times, but these details bring the battlefield to life. Frank originally signed on as a nurse for the Union army, but earned the respect and trust of his fellow soldiers to also serve as postmaster, spy and the general’s orderly. The 2nd Michigan Infantry gave Frank the chance to serve in the front lines during key battles of the Civil War and emotions ran high as every bullet whizzed by his head. As the story progresses we follow the timeline of Civil War battles (that is also printed in the back if the book), but also get to know the soldiers playing cards at camp, longing for their loved ones and fearing what the next day will bring.
Despite a war going on, the most important story is the battle inside Frank’s head and the person hiding within. Moss does an excellent job portraying the narrator’s struggle between Frank and Sarah without confusing the reader. Frank is brave enough to walk into the Confederate’s camp disguised as a slave, while Sarah is scared of the feelings she has for her best friend Jerome. Growing up Sarah never felt like a “normal” girl; but during the war Frank is on constant guard for fear of not passing as a man. Although the display of gender roles are clear to see, the subtlety lies in the questions and fears Sarah/Frank explores. What does it mean to be a woman? How could so many women easily pass as men? How did the war affect gender roles? Why can Sarah Edmonds be rewarded for her accomplishments in war, when so many other women were discharged or imprisoned for serving their country?
Even though these "two characters" have different names, the same person shares these characteristics while living in a time when women were not allowed to vote and black men were not allowed to work for wages. Moss graciously weaves the story of Frank and Sarah together as the main character fights with her own identity and for the men she has learned to respect and trust in return.
I picked this one up on a whim from NetGalley, because I really do adore historical fiction. Typically I don’t read Civil War stuff, and I thought it would be a good change. It struck me as something akin to those “Dear America” books I read as a child, so why not, right?
However, straight from the get go, I could see problems with this book emerging. The narrator comes off as stiff and emotionless. The First Battle of Bull Run is also steamrolled right through–as is everything else until about the second half of the book. I was further annoyed because The First Battle of Bull Run was so flippantly run through, and then we get a whole long chapter about how Sarah/Frank was falling head over heels with Jerome to the point where she tells him he can’t ask his sweetheart at home to marry him. This was also the chapter we MET Jerome. I wasn’t even 70 pages in.
The highlights of this book, though, were in the history. Moss does a spectacular job describing what it’s like to be a soldier in battle, seeing what you see and doing what you do. Both her descriptions of the physical scene and the descriptions of the effects of that it had on Sarah/Frank were beautifully done.
The great thing about Sarah/Frank is that she really was EVERYWHERE. She signs up right at the beginning of the war, right before the First Battle of Bull Run. She works as a nurse, a postmaster general, a spy and a general’s orderly. The descriptions of seeing someone leg amputated, receiving gifts from families whom she had informed has lost their son/husband/father, inside the Confederate camps and inside the general’s tent were fantastic. None of these facts had to be invented to really give you a wide view of the war, because Sarah/Frank really did those things in real life.
Thankfully, after the first half of the novel, someone puts the brakes on. Sure, there are a lot of gaps in time, but that’s to be expected because that always happens in historical fiction when they’re trying to give you all the exciting bits. Sarah/Frank’s “romance” bits with Jerome and then James were still a constant thorn in my side, since there always seemed to be a severe disconnect between Sarah thoughts and Frank thoughts. Still, James acts more like a friend and Jerome ends up getting captured and paroled (therefore gone from the picture for a bit) and we get to focus on the battles and the camp life.
The part in which Sarah/Frank “leaves” the Army also seemed a little washed over. I think it was supposed to have an impact, but it didn’t. All of the sudden, I was just reading and saying, “What? What?” No preamble. Almost no reaction. She just … moves on.
All and all, this book was separated into a bunch of halves. You have the first half of the book and the second half of the book. You have Sarah/Frank’s personal narration and then you have narration about the war. The first half of the book was a crazy ride that really needed to be fleshed out more, while the second half of the book was a pretty awesome description fest. Sarah/Frank as a narrator seemed to be really lacking in connection with me, yet her description of the war was fantastic.
To be honest, I’m rather used to this in historical fiction. It is really hard to write a compelling character while trying to fit in THIS MUCH history. I understand that. So I sort of stopped trying to connect with Sarah/Frank and just let myself go along for the ride. Moss’s descriptions of the war were compelling enough to make me okay with that. Still, if you’re looking for a real feminist story, I’d look somewhere else. I feel like I could give this book to my brother to read and he’d love it, because all he’d care about are the battle scenes.
Laurie Halse Anderson once wrote in her blog that she preferred to call her historical books "historical thrillers" rather than "historical fiction," given that many kids and teens associate historical fiction with BORING. However, it's not every historical fiction title that can be justly called a "thriller." With A Soldier's Secret, Marissa Moss definitely joins the club of historical thriller writers for teens. Based on the true story of Civil War hero Sarah Edmonds, who enlisted in the Union Army as Frank Thompson, this is one story so full of incredible twists and turns that readers will be compelled have to finish it just to find out what happens.
In this novel, Moss returns to explore in greater depth Sarah Edmonds' life, which she portrayed in the lively 2011 picture book biography Nurse, Soldier, Spy. When we meet Sarah at the opening of this novel, it's the spring of 1861, and she has been living as Frank Thompson, a traveling book salesman, for more than three years. Writing in the first person, Sarah fills the reader in on her back story growing up on a farm in New Brunswick, Canada, with a cruel and abusive father; when her father is about to force her into an unwanted marriage, Sarah cuts her hair, dresses as a boy, and runs away, ending up in the United States.
But when the war breaks out, the teenaged Sarah wants to be a part of history, and enlists in the Union Army as Private Frank Thompson, Army nurse. An accomplished shot and rider, she is especially skilled at hiding her female parts when she "does her business," and no one questions her sex or her ability as a soldier. Moss does an excellent job portraying the tedium and occasional terror of a soldier's existence through Sarah's eyes, as she wonders if she will be able to measure up in battle. When the Union loses the first Battle of Bull Run, Sarah/Frank no longer needs to wonder; she's running around helping the doctors amputate limbs, writing letters to loved ones, and carrying out the last wishes of dying soldiers, as the reader gets a close-up view of the primitive nature of medical care in the 19th century.
But of course Sarah is a woman, and living in close proximity with so many eligible young men, the inevitable happens--she develops romantic feelings for a fellow soldier, fantasizing about him. Eventually her feelings are so strong, she asks for a reassignment, next serving as a postmaster delivering letters to the troops. Soon she is recruited as a Union spy, where her skill at disguises comes in very handy. She even "disguises" herself as a woman for one of her assignments!
While there are hundreds of documented cases of women disguising themselves as men to fight in the Civil War, Sarah was the only woman to be recognized by Congress as an honorably discharged soldier, with rights to back pay and pension, and the only woman allowed to join the association for Civil War veterans. At her death she was granted a military funeral and buried in a cemetery for Civil War veterans.
Moss' well-researched novel is based in part on Sarah Edmonds' own memoir, as well as many other sources on women in the Civil War and the Civil War in general. Moss includes extensive back matter, including background on Sarah Edmonds, brief biographies of Union Army officers, a brief Civil War timeline, which includes annotations for battles in which Frank/Sarah participated, and selected bibliography.
This is a terrific novel for middle schoolers or high schoolers, male or female. It offers great action, suspense, twists, and star-crossed romance that should intrigue even reluctant readers of historical fiction.
Did you know that there were over 400 women who are known to have dressed as men and fought during the U. S. Civil War? One of them was nineteen-year-old Sarah Emma Edmonds, a native of New Brunswick, Canada, who at age sixteen ran away from a drunken father who abused her and a forced marriage to a repulsive neighbor. She dressed as a young man named Frank Thompson, came to Hartford, CN, and became a traveling bookseller for a publishing company. The firm sent Frank west, and in Flint, MI, he decided to join the Union Army of the Potomac, becoming a soldier, nurse, postmaster, general’s orderly, and spy, and seeing action in the battles of First and Second Bull Run, Williamsburg, Fair Oaks, Seven Days, and Fredericksburg. Frank manages to hide his secret for a long time, but when he becomes deathly ill due to swamp fever, will he be found out?
The story is told in an interesting way that is generally easy to read, and there are some genuinely humorous situations. Narrated by Sarah, the novel offers readers an in-depth look at the Civil War with a reasonably good job describing what it was like to be a soldier in battle at that time. Historical materials are used to build the foundation of the story. drawing heavily from Sarah’s own memoir and other first-person documents, so there is a great deal of detail about ordinary life in the military, plus much coverage of fighting and action, although the author did fabricate a major event at the end of the book on the basis that it "seemed like something that should have happened, and the advantage of fiction is that you can choose the shape of the story." For the budding historian, the book includes a Civil War timeline, archival photos, a glossary of names, and a detailed note on sources. Those who are a bit on the sensitive side should be aware that some descriptions of the battle scenes, though perhaps not overly gratuitous, can be rather detailed and blunt.
To me, however, what stood out most in a book supposedly intended for young people is the bad language and sexual references. Besides several common euphemisms, the “d” and “h” words, in various forms and phrases (including “God***mit”), along with the name of God as an interjection, are used frequently. There are references to soldiers’ “pi**ing,” someone is called a “horse’s a**,” the terms “bi*ch” and “ba*t*rd” are found, and Sarah talks about her monthlies and bloody menstrual cloths. Also discussions occur about the size of “male anatomy” and the fact that Frank’s is “less than ample.” The vulgar slang word “pecker” even appears in this regard. I understand that some modern authors of young adult books feel that it is necessary to include these kinds of things to be “realistic.” And I suspect that some parents may not mind them, but others like me feel that they are totally unnecessary or will at least want to know about them ahead of time, especially in a book that is said to be for ages twelve and up. If you were the father of an innocent twelve-year-old girl, how would you feel if she is reading the book, comes up to you, and out of the blue asks, “Dad, what’s a pecker?” This is why I recommend it for no one under age sixteen. Finally, I was struck by someone else’s personal reaction about how sad it was that Frank's way of proving his masculinity was to tell dirty stories and spit and scratch and “break wind” (i.e., pass gas).
This is actually the second book I've read on Sarah Edmonds, the first being the much shorter Behind Rebel Lines, which I read quite some years ago now so, length aside, I can't really compare the two. This one was, however, much more in-depth and at times seemed like a minute-by-minute account of the Civil War: every battle, every retreat, every Union victory and defeat. Which meant that in places it started to feel a little long and repetitive as well, but it was still really interesting because I don't know much about the Civil War at all... it's sad, but probably 80% of my knowledge comes from having read and seen Gone With the Wind! We don't study American history in high school here - and it's because of that, my non-Americanness, that I at times found myself being mildly confused. The Union, the Confederates, the Rebels, the South, the Bluecoats, the Greycoats... all of those terms were thrown around willy-nilly, and sometimes the same side was called two different names in the space of one sentence. When you're not American, and not really familiar with the Civil War, that can get really confusing when suddenly different names are used without first being explained. I suppose it makes sense in the context of the story for everything to be just said without explanation, and also most people reading this book are probably Americans who know what's what, but it makes it a little hard on a foreigner! It was fun to learn, but a bit of a struggle at times to catch up. Also, I'm now not sure why the Civil War happened in the first place, oddly enough! I'd originally thought it was more to do with slavery but this book showed that not all of the, um, good guys even cared about freeing the slaves. Oh man, all the Americans are laughing at me right now, aren't they? Okay, you guys stop laughing for a second and tell me all about the Eureka Stockade.
Frank/Sarah was seriously fascinating to read about - I'm amazed that she managed to keep her gender a secret for so long! (Also amazed that so many other women did the same as her.) Although I grew really tired of her constant mooning over Jerome... I think the book could have been about half as long if all that repetition had been trimmed down. It was interesting, sure, to bring that side into things - just very, very repetitive.
Also, the spy missions were terrifying and awesome! Probably my favourite parts to read :) I also liked learning about Sarah's life pre-war, and how and why she first became Frank.