Synopsis: Twelve-year old Homer and his seventeen-year old brother Harold live with his hateful uncle Squint after they are orphaned. Homer is so hungry he eats pig slop, and uncle is about to beat him when big bro steps in. Squint comes back with Union recruitment. Despite being under-aged, Harold is sworn in the army. Homer overhears that Squint and the judge swearing Harold in knew it was a sham and it was illegal, so Homer escapes the farm to try to save Harold.
Homer gets caught by slave-catchers, Smelt and Stink. They also have a black man, Samuel. They’re going to kill Samuel, but Homer convinces them that Sam’s worth more alive than dead. They decide to use Homer as a spy to a local Quaker, Jebediah Brewster. He’s a rich man involved in the Underground Railroad. Homer is a liar, he can’t help but tell tall tales. He tells the truth– that he’s looking for his brother– but embellishes everything else. He tells the cook he’s from Smelt, and what’d’ya know, they already knew Smelt was watching him so they figured out Homer’s game. Brewster actually gives him a lot of information, including location of slaves about to head north, and gives him the choice to go back to Smelt or to stay with him. Homer decides to go to Smelt and give him SOME of the information. This distracts Smelt and Brewster saves Samuel, who in turn saves Homer.
Brewster gives Homer an idiot guardian to help him look for Harold, along with money to buy Harold’s way out of the army. They make their way to the Boston harbor, and Homer’s guardian gets swindled by some con artists. Homer can totally see it coming, but he gets tricked and locked up in the pig cages (?) because who’s going to believe a kid over nice-looking New Englanders? Anyway, he then gets recruited to be in a medicine show for when a “doctor” sees him act like a pig, and he becomes Pig Boy! They travel, have to move on every day, but they follow the Union and Homer hopes to get in touch with Harold this way. Um, turns out the medicine man is a spy for the Rebels. Homer escapes on a weather balloon, and ends up in Gettysburg.
Homer finds Harold in the make-shift prison because he tried to escape. Homer lets him know that the enlistment was a sham, and Harold’s all, hello, knew that, but I was tired of playing your mom and dad and was sick of the farm. The prisoners are told all hands are needed to fight, and Harold leads the way. Homer decides to shoot Harold in the leg to save his life. Everything turns out okay.
- Newbery Silver Honor. Definitely wasn’t that impressed with it, but it wasn’t bad.
- Homer is Huck Finn-esque. He’s a mischievous kid, as you can probably tell. No dialect to deal with, so this is probably better for younger readers. (My nephew had Huck Finn on his summer reading list. He came in the kitchen and was like, “Seriously, what are they saying?” I read to him for a little bit, which is kinda fun but not something a 15-year old likes happening, and told him to translate everything I read. Bravo, he made it through Twain! So… that side point was to show, this book won’t disturb SSR time, but it’s less interesting than Huck.) Characters seem more like caricatures than anything. I suppose this is because of an unreliable narrator?
- Did not know the medicine shows were so popular then. Like, tattooed lady and everything.
- The book also has a glossary of Civil War slang, etc. I think that’s pretty cool, similar to Philbrick’s Freak the Mighty.
Grades: 5-6/7. As usual, it depends on the kid.
Grade: B-/C+ This is not going on my favorites shelf, but it’s a decent book, as it got a silver honor. I felt pretty “meh” about it.