Sunday, July 6, 2008

Howard Fast: April Morning

I picked up a copy of April Morning by Howard Fast because somewhere I read that it was the first novel in John Jakes’ library of historical fiction. I figured Jakes would know historical fiction because he wrote some commercially successful Civil War novels. His North and South made a pretty good mini-series. And I like historical fiction, especially set in the American Revolution.

Adam Cooper starts the book as a teenage boy feeling oppressed by his father, and dreaming of his girlfriend. Sounds like a pretty standard story line, except that it takes place in 1775. I think we get a pretty good picture of family life in the 18th century.

Not coincidentally, the next morning Adam is on Lexington Green with the town militia when the British arrive. I’ve always thought that the American stand on Lexington Green was one of the most futilely foolish incidents in American history. With Fast’s description, I still feel that way. A bunch of men and boys with no chance to accomplish anything stand in front of a major detachment of the best army in the world. We see the death and terror vividly.

Adam goes through terror, shame, anger, and exhaustion. He rejoins the fight at Merriam’s corner in Concord, and stays with it until the British complete their retreat into Boston. In contrast with the Lexington incident, I’ve always thought that the running fight from Concord to Boston was one of the highlights of American history. Americans stepped up to do what they needed to do, and used tactics and skills appropriate to the situation. Smart and practical beats brave and dumb any day.

Adam may not have accomplished much, but he grows up in a hurry. He ends the short novel as a young man back at his home with serious decisions to make.

At first, I didn’t think much of the book. It seems a little simple. But then I decided I really was getting a good feel for the times. Adam is no superhero. He is just an American stepping up to what needs to be done, before deciding whether or not he is a patriot.

When I was scanning the internet for a cover picture to post, I discovered that a lot of Junior High kids hate this book. Apparently I accidentally stumble into a book being used in Social Studies classes. How embarrassing. But I still say that it paints a pretty good picture of the times. That may be why teachers use it, and kids hate it.

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