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The Last Silk Dress

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  2,434 Ratings  ·  114 Reviews
High-spirited, beautiful Susan Chilmark, fourteen, vows to do something meaningful to support the Confederacy during the Civil War. Despite the wishes of her mother, Susan and her best friend, Connie, collect silk dresses from all the ladies of Richmond to make a balloon that will be used to spy on the Yankees.

But the issues behind the war aren't as obvious as Susan thinks
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 4th 1999 by Laurel Leaf (first published 1988)
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Kellyn Roth
That really sucked.

I'm sorry, but it did. I know lots of people love this book, but I just hated it. Reading it was pure torture. The only reason I got past the first chapter was because it was required reading for school (e.g. my mom made me finish it because "it came highly recommended"; WHY DOES SHE KEEP DOING THIS TO ME? Just because other homeschool moms recommend a book doesn't make it good ... or even bearable ...), and it as painful as pushing a train uphill.

So the whole time I was just
I read every single Ann Rinaldi book when I was younger, and this was one of my favorites. The silk dress balloon looms large in my memory:

While we were longing for the balloons that poverty denied us, a genius arose for the occasion and suggested we send out and gather silk dresses in the Confederacy and make a balloon. It was done, and soon we had a great patchwork ship of many varied hues which was ready for use in the Seven Days' Campaign [...] The Federals gathered it in, and with it the la
May 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is my favorite Ann Rinaldi book by far. Here is a sweeping and epic Civil War story. The main character is Susan Chilmark, a fourteen year old girl living in Richmond, Virginia in 1861. Richmond has just joined the Confederacy and she watches as the changes of war sweep through the South. Her father is sent away to help build a ship for the Confederate navy and she is left with her abusive mother. Her mother, Charlotte, is unpredictable, going from hitting and yelling at Susan one minute to ...more
Maya Rock
Apr 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
The best Ann Rinaldi book and also her first, I think. Snooty Confederate girl learns to sacrifice during the War, ends up collecting all these dresses to make a hot air balloon to spy on northerners.

She has a bad relationship with her mother, and an attractive, disowned brother who sort of is Rhett Butler-like, loves the South but profiting off of the war. Later learns her brother was kicked out of the house because he fell in love with a slave girl who turned out to be his half-sister (oops.)
May 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
I was hooked on her writing. They are researched history books with the character experiencing the events.
Valerie Watson Scheg
Apr 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars

Susan Chilmark, a true Southern Belle, lives in Richmond during the start of the Civil War. Her father is gone, off fighting for the Cause; her brother, Lucien, is long estranged from the family; and Susan is alone at home with her unstable mother, whose volatile manner is the topic of much gossip among the ladies of the town. Pricked with a desire to do something significant to help the South’s war effort, Susan convinces her mother to let her collect silk dresses from the ladies of Richmond, w
This is the story of a young Southern belle during the Civil War. Susan is enamored with the cause and supporting the South, and decides to lead the women's efforts at creating a silk hot air balloon with the ball dresses of the women, to aid their soldiers in spying on the Yankees, for the north had multiple baloons. An unexpected encounter with her disowned brother, however, opens her eyes to the evils of the south, the scandals in her own family, and the abolition movement. With difficulty, S ...more
Lindsay Wright
Jul 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book so much, I wrote letters to the heroine's brother. In retrospect, I am not sure it warranted so much adoration, but it must have had some wonderful quality to keep me hooked for years.
Arij Khan
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 01, 2017 rated it did not like it
Silly girl with romanticized passions. Poor representation of both sides.
Dec 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Susan Dobson Chilmark is a loyal Confederate. She sews and knits for them but she wants to do more.
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I don't know why I was so taken with this book. Normally I don't like Civil War stories much (except Gone With the Wind). This story contained some war, not much, but more what the Civil War did to the people who had to deal with it. And it was written from a 14 year-old's point of view.

Susan Dobson Chilmark is 14 years old when the War begins. She thinks that everything is black and white, having an adoring father and a slightly crazy mother. But nothing is black and white. Indiscretions that
Chili Library
Mar 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Susan Chilmark, a true Southern Belle, lives in Richmond during the start of the Civil War. Her father is gone, off fighting for the Cause; her brother, Lucien, is long estranged from the family; and Susan is alone at home with her unstable mother, whose volatile manner is the topic of much gossip among the ladies of the town. Pricked with a desire to do something significant to help the South’s war effort, Susan convinces her mother to let her collect silk dresses from the ladies of Richmond, w ...more
Aug 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is the first Ann Rinaldi book I read in middle school and is probably part of what got me into studying Civil War history when I went on to college! I can't fully remember the plot except I believe the father was away at war (serving in the Confederate Army as the family was either in Georgia or one of the Carolinas). The lead character's mother seemed to have a bit of a mental imbalance that she took out on her daughter after their son had been run off and was now a pseudo Rhett Butler aro ...more
This started out really well in my opinion. The backdrop of the Civil War in the South really just doesn't get old to me since Gone with the Wind. The family was interesting enough even though the heroine seemed young and silly. That's how authors wrote young girls back then. The family had enough secrets to keep me interested along the way.

And I really didn't mind the girl. She was okay if not a little whimpish for putting up with that psycho mother of hers. And of course the story line with h
Sarah Crawford
Jan 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing

The Last Silk Dress

Susan Chilmark is 14 and living in Richmond at the time of the Civil War. She's a strong supporter of the South but her brother is the town gossip as he refuses to join the Southern army. Her mother is certifiably crazy and really nasty to her (in today's world Susan would be removed from the home in a moment once the authorities found out.)

She wants to do something for the Cause, so she ends up spearheading an effort to gather up silk dresses and ship them off so they can be
Deina Felix
Sep 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
"The Last Silk Dress" is about a fourteen year old girl named Susan Chilmark. She lives in Confederate Richmond, Virginia. Susan lives with her mother, Charlotte, who she believes does not love her because she's constantly beaten by her. Susan feels that she'll never live up to her deceased sister,Isabel , who was her mother's favorite child.

Susan finds her long lost brother, Lucien, who was shunned by many people in Richmond for being against the Confederacy. Susan sneaks off a few times to se
May 24, 2012 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: NO ONE
Just so you know, this is probably the worst book EVER! Well, out of my currently read books.

In The Last Silk Dress, a historical Civil War book, that examines the life of a girl in Richmond, VA, who supports the Cause and wants badly to be accepted by everyone. Told in first person from the point of view of Susan Chilimark, this book examines the American Dream, black injustices and south culture during the civil war, including that (whites) can have endless opportunity if they work hard and al
Jul 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Historical fiction buffs
Shelves: teen
I went through a massive Ann Rinaldi phase beginning in seventh grade and I usually remember best the ones I read early on. I don't know if she tapered off or if I simply outgrew her novels, but I definately prefer the older ones. The novels all have a heroine who is usually based on an actual person and who participates in various degrees in certain formative events in American history. These are definately books for a teenage girl niche as the main character is always a young woman and there i ...more
Ash Wilkins
Oct 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
At first I didn't think I would enjoy The Last Silk Dress because I'm not a fan of historical books. I saw the many pages and small words so I became bored with it. Although I dreaded reading at first, I began to be interested in reading more of it. I love to visualize when I read and that book was great for visualizing. It was well detailed and specific. It is about a young girl living in the South when the Civil War starts. That is the topic that I'm learning in Social Studies so the book gav ...more
Jul 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I believe that this book was very eye-opening for me as far as understanding the social customs and ideologies of the people during the Civil War. The North and South were very different, polar opposites, and they were horrible to one another. Susan Chilmark had a hard time with finding a place in the society in which she lived. Her parents and older brother looked through different shaded glasses than each other and as a result were not on speaking terms. Susan struggled with this rift and also ...more
Jul 29, 2010 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: girls 8 to 12, not much older than that will be able to handle Susan's immaturity
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was actually super good. Yes, she cried a lot, but she wasn't a baby. We are hormonal teenagers, it is entirely natural. Yes, she did some stupid stuff, but she was young and she doesn't know a lot about people and the world, which is hard when your world is contstantly changing. The use of "nigra" was interesting. It wasn't offensive like the n-word is, but it seemed entirely natural in the situation. I'd never heard that, and it was interesting. I liked her character developemnt, she seem ...more
Anna Whitfield
May 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, nostalgia
I wish I could give higher than 5 stars.

I "cut my teeth" on Ann Rinaldi's YA romantic historical fiction. This title stands out to me the most. It's been a long time since I read this book, about 12 years, but I remember it was one of my all-time favorites. I remember most of the story plot, it was that good to me. This is one of the best historical love stories I've ever read, even if intended for young adults, and I've read a LOT of historical romances in Christian adult fiction.

If I have a
Jan 26, 2009 rated it it was ok
it snot such an AMAZING book but it is's kind of like a dramatic soap opera

Megan [I'm okay, I'm alright]
Nov 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: want-to-own
So. I love this book. :D
I read it a few years ago and loved it then, and I still love it now. And yes Timothy Tobias Collier is one of the reasons that I love this book. :D

I could have sworn it ended differently, though. I thought I remembered some part in there with Tim and Susan that never actually happened...guess my imagination is just getting the best of me. :)

but yeah, even though I would have liked this book to go on longer, the ending is still okay. And I still love this!
Jul 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Great book! Well research history novel. The story takes place during the Civil war - and the main character is a fourteen girl living in Richmond, VA. Being that I'm from Ohio - I never understood the Confederate side of things. In the novel Richmond has just joined the Confederacy and she watches as the changes of war sweep through the South. This book is written beautifully, the characters are wonderfully though out. I would definitely recommend this book - especially to young adults.
Jul 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is a young adult novel, but I enjoyed reading it as a teenager *and* early 20-something because I love Ann Rinaldi's description of Civil War era Richmond, Virginia, where I lived for some time. I also loved how she told a story based on a small, not really well known detail about the Civil War. In addition, the characters of Susan, Lucien and Charlotte were interesting and well developed. Excellent storytelling, excellent historical fiction.
Jan 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Young southern girl organizes collection of silk dresses to create a hot air balloon for the southern army to spy on the Yankees.
Opening lines of the book:
Whenever I think of my father, which is very often, I remember the day of the riot at Tredegar Iron Works. And I think of the way he got hit with the rock and how his face bled. that is the memory that will always come to my mind first, I suppose, when I think of my father. For me that was the moment the war started.
Jan 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book was well researched the events leading up to the civil war was great this was recommended to me by my English teacher and I was glad I read it. I definitely enjoy reading historical fiction and this was one of my favorites. As the main character feels like she will never live up to her mothers standards she tries to help the south by collecting dresses to make a hot air ballon to spy on the Yankees and soon finds her self in love with one of them.
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Ann Rinaldi (b. August 27, 1934, in New York City) is a young adult fiction author. She is best known for her historical fiction, including In My Father's House, The Last Silk Dress, An Acquaintance with Darkness, A Break with Charity, and Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons. She has written a total of forty novels, eight of which were listed as notable by the ALA. In 2000, Wolf by the Ears was lis ...more
More about Ann Rinaldi...

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