- Calico Girl by Jerdine Nolen
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-5981-5 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-5983-9 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys Ad Gr. 4-6
At the outset of the Civil War, Mister Henry Warren enlists with the Confederacy, selling off some slaves to get his financial affairs in order and breaking up Callie’s family in the process. He leaves with the parting demand that Hampton, Callie’s father and a free man, stay on the farm to look after the Warren family or face Henry’s wrath when he returns. The slaves soon discover that turning themselves in at Union-held Fortress Monroe gives them “contraband” status and the protection of the Union soldiers, and Hampton speedily brings his own enslaved wife, baby son, and Callie to this refuge. Here Callie finds a friend and mentor in Mrs. Mary Peake, a free black woman in charge of running a school for the contrabands, and by novel’s end Callie is bound for the North to continue her education. Although Callie’s family experiences are fictional, the episode is based on actual conditions at Fortress Monroe in 1861, and on Mary Peake’s service to that fragile community. In chapters that shift among the characters’ points of view, readers are privy to internal monologues and passages of exhortative dialogue, but there’s very little of the group’s actual struggles to reach the fort, endure crowded conditions, and prepare for a future outside the fortress walls. Conversations tend to be more theatrical than convincing: “‘Should I never return,’ [Warren] said to them both, ‘if I fall, my last farewell is to you and my last remembrance is your expression of true love.’” Nonetheless, a timeline and list of useful links will be useful in leading Nolen’s audience to further information on a compelling chapter in Civil War history.