Sunday, November 15, 2015

Book Review: Johnny Tremain

Title: Johnny Tremain
Author: Ester Forbes
Release Date: 1943
Genre: adventure, war, revolutionary war, romance, coming of age, historical fiction
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: children's fiction
Age Group: 10+
Awards: Newbery Award

Young Johnny Tremain has it all. He's the star silversmith apprentice at a successful shop in the New World. He's set to inherit the practice, and marry the silversmith's pretty daughter, in a few years' time. And the thing is, he's good at what he does and he loves it. Sure, he's an orphan and still has no idea who his father was, but he did love his mother very dearly before she passed on. And while he still misses her, he's made a great life for himself.
Until he slips. Literally, he slips. Working on a Sunday to get a very important job done, Johnny slips and burns his hand in molten silver. When the bandage comes off, it is discovered that his thumb has grown attached to his palm. He's not useful as a silversmith anymore.
Kicked out on the streets while tensions rise between the colonists and the British, Johnny must find a way to survive.

Word of Warning
  • Violence and death. This being a young man's experience with the Revolutionary War, there is violence even though the book is considered children's fiction. None if is particularly graphic, but people do get hurt and die.
  • Crime is sometimes glorified. For those who know the history of the Revolutionary War, the rebels who are so often praised acted very much like common criminals at times, stealing, destroying property, and hurting people. Granted, this particular book only hints at these deeds, but it should be noted that our "heroes" do commit criminal acts.
  • Guns. A war is fought with guns, and characters get guns and they use them and people die.
  • A character who could be considered disabled is shamed and treated poorly. However wrong this is, it was the reality of the time and this is historical fiction.
  • Along those lines, this story is also told from a very one-sided point of view: a young white male colonist. This could potentially constrain the story to missing other important things. But on the other hand, a point of view does need to be taken or the author won't be able to get anything done.
  • Our good old Johnny Tremain can be a bit of a bully, particularly in the beginning of the book. This should not be taken lightly. The hero is a bully. Once he is on the other side of things, he does change some of his ways.
My Thoughts
Honestly, this is one of my childhood favorites. It's one of those books you read once every two years or so just to remember how great it was. It's the book you buy whenever you see it on sale because you know some young person in your life could use this great adventure (or am I the only one who rescues books from the sales shelf and rehomes them?).
And all the objections up there? This might sound awful, but they don't really matter. I mean yes, they are bad things, and yes, we need to consider the youth we are handing this book to because not everyone should read this. But this is historical fiction, and these problems are treated as such. They are a representation of what life was like, not what it ought to be like. Because that's what fiction in general does: it represents a truth the writers sees in the world, not necessarily the way the world should be. That's the reader's job to figure out based on a well-formed conscience, faith, and the reality the writer is pointing out.

No comments: