Retro Friday Review: Girl in Blue by Ann Rinaldi

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August 10, 2012 by Heidi

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time!

Girl in Blue by Ann Rinaldi book coverTitle: Girl in Blue [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Ann Rinaldi [Website]
Standing: Stand alone.
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction
Published: April 1st, 2001 by Scholastic, Inc.
Format: Hardcover; 308 pages
Source: Borrowed from my local library.

From acclaimed QUILT TRILOGY author Ann Rinaldi comes another gripping historical adventure. Here, a courageous girl disguises herself as a boy and fights in the Civil War.

The year is 1861. When spirited teenager Sarah Louisa learns that she is to be married off to her despicable neighbor, she runs away from home. Disguising herself as a boy, Sarah boldly joins the army–and before long is a soldier in the Civil War. Sarah navigates the joys and hardships of army life, all the while struggling to keep her true identity a secret. But Sarah’s real adventure is only just beginning. A chance encounter with a detective soon draws her into a web of mystery, intrigue, and romance–and Sarah’s courage will be put to the test as never before.

Sixteen year old Sarah has lived at the mercies of an abusive and overbearing father her entire life, but she refuses to be handed off like property to a neighbor twice her age just so that he can help out on the farm and she can raise his three motherless children.  She’s determined to get away, and to serve her country as she knows she has the skill to do–as a soldier.  Sarah is an accomplished marksman, she’s brave, and she has no interest or intentions towards men other than serving beside them.  Her biggest issue isn’t even that she’s a girl, it’s that she’s sixteen.  Sarah perfects the art of mimicry and lying in order to make her way into the ranks, where she distinguishes herself and finds unique employment with the nation’s first detective agency.

I don’t know if it’s my recent disappointment in Fever 1793, my childhood love of Ann Rinaldi, or my tendency to adore stories about girls who dress as boys, but I devoured Girl in Blue, and enjoyed every second of it.  Ann Rinaldi was probably my favorite author when I was about ten years old, and then somehow I completely forgot about her until one day she was mentioned in a Twitter conversation with Tara (Hobbitsies) and Amy (Tripping Over Books).  I knew immediately that I must read something by her as an adult to see if my enjoyment of her stood up.  So I wandered into the Tween shelving at my library to see which of her books they had, and when I saw Girl in Blue, the story of a girl running off to fight as a soldier in the Civil War, I knew I’d found my match.

Ann Rinaldi writes fantastic historical fiction for middle grade and young adult readers that is not only well researched and accurate to history, it is full of rich characters and stories that will transport any reader to another time.  To my knowledge, all of her books feature strong female characters (if anyone’s read one of her’s with a male lead, let me know), and the bulk of those I read as a child took place during or around the Revolutionary War.  I did note that she’s departed from this more in the years that I neglected her work, and I was excited to pick up something that took place during the Civil War.  I learned from Girl in Blue that there were, in fact, at least 100 known women who fought as men during the Civil War.  The character Sarah was based on one such young woman, Sarah Emma Edmonds, though their actual stories varied greatly.  The detective agency that Sarah becomes involved with also actually existed, as the first such agency in the country.  I loved that Girl in Blue was packed with excitement and intrigue, all of which touched on actual people and events–the best type of historical fiction there is!

Sarah is precisely the type of girl we all love to read about.  She’s independent, strong, and brave.  Sarah’s only known men to treat her unkindly, so she’s certainly not one to moon over them, and yet she’s open to serving beside them with honor.  The story of Girl in Blue is unexpected and in constant motion, unpredictable and never dull.  Ann Rinaldi manages to show the blurred lines between two sides of a conflict, and paint with accuracy the intensity of feelings and loyalties during the Civil War.  In addition, Girl in Blue reflects the important rolls that women played, not only as soldiers, but as nurses, spies, informants, and general support.  My only complaint about the story, was that the ending seemed a little off.  It was somewhat rushed, and required a greater suspension of disbelief than the rest of the story, which I was unable to muster.  Regardless of this, Girl in Blue is highly recommended.

Here’s one of my favorite pieces of writing from Girl in Blue:

“This house is like an ark, isn’t it?” Little Rose asked then. “Did you ever think that? We’re all in here together and sometimes we fight like animals. Only there’s no flood outside.”

Oh, yes, there is, Sarah thought, even as she marveled at the child’s insights. Oh, yes, there is a flood outside. And I feel the waters, rising and rising and rising.

“You know what I think, Sarah? I think that when God made all those animals, He was practicing. He made them all different shapes and sizes, and He just kept on practicing. For when He made man. But He had to practice a lot, first. That’s why the animals are all so different-looking. What do you think?”

“Sometimes,” Sarah said, “I think He didn’t practice enough.”

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  Absolutely!  I’d love to revisit some of her books that I loved as a child like The Secret of Sarah Revere, or In My Father’s House as well as those that were published in the time in between.  My library has one about a young Queen Elizabeth I, The Redheaded Princess, and I think it’s calling my name.

Recommended for: Anyone who likes strong female characters and historical fiction, girls who dress as boys, Code Name Verity, the Civil War and spies.

Get a second
opinion:
Diary of an Eccentric
Teen Reads
The Children’s War

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9 comments »

  1. akismet-1016c6a27846cfd435d26d6d586721ec says:

    AHH you summed up EXACTLY why I love Ann Rinaldi so much. I love the way she takes historical facts and people and wars and towns and what not, but puts her own spin on them in a way to engage readers, but still teaches them things!

    I haven’t read this one and I MUST get my hands on it after you review because hello, female soldier, detective agency, etc. Thanks for this fab review!

    (Have you read Time Enough for Drums? That one is my favourite because it has lots of kissing HAHA)

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, I’m SUCH a nerd that I LOVE learning about history and what not from books like this. I have NOT read Time Enough For Drums, but really ought to-I hope you read Girl in Blue because yes, hello, all sorts of awesome!

  2. This sounds fun! I love masquerade stories as well, though it takes a lot for them to be believable. I don’t think I ever read any of Rinaldi’s books as a tween but I’ll have to try one as an adult. Also, 100 women fought in the Civil War?! I had no idea and I was a history major in college. Fail.

    • Heidi says:

      I didn’t know either! It’s probably not a real common text book fact. But obviously the girls were able to pull it off with some believability. I know others have been a bit disappointed by her as an adult, but I wasn’t, maybe because I read some of her recent work instead of her earlier stuff.

  3. VeganYANerds says:

    This sounds great and I would never have heard about it if not for your review, I’m glad you were able to enjoy her book as an adult as well!

  4. [...] Retro Friday Review: Girl in Blue by Ann Rinaldi [...]

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