Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Last Full Measure by Ann Rinaldi

The Last Full Measure by Ann Rinaldi is a young adult novel about life in the town of Gettysburg during the Civil War.

Fourteen-year-old Tacy's father is an army doctor, and two of her three older brothers are soldiers in the Union Army. Her other brother, David, has an injured foot that prevents him from joining the army, so their father has tasked him with caring for his mother and sister at their home in Gettysburg. Tacy used to have a good relationship with her brother, but the war has changed that: he's now domineering and repressive, while she has grown more headstrong and sassy. But with soldiers on both sides of the conflict arriving in town, there are many dangers facing a young woman of Tacy's age -- not to mention the dangers that her father and brothers face on the battlefield every day. Will Tacy and her family make it through the battle unscathed?

I'm usually a fan of Rinaldi's writing, but this is not one of her stronger books. Part of the problem is that Tacy doesn't have much agency, nor does she gain any over the course of the story. This is historically accurate, but potentially frustrating for readers who might be expecting one of Rinaldi's typical strong heroines. Tacy does have a certain strength of will, but the story is less about her and more about day to day life in Gettysburg during the battle. Moreover, Tacy's voice is prosaic, even when describing events where she is experiencing heightened emotion. This lends a certain level of detachment to the story; I never felt like I really connected with Tacy. I found myself easily pulled out of the story, therefore, when I encountered small, irksome details, like David saying "I've given her a lot of crap lately," a distinctly modern turn of phrase. I also don't feel that the title of the book is a good fit, especially considering that there are other Civil War books out there with the same or similar titles (notably Jeff Shaara's The Last Full Measure). A little more originality would help reduce confusion. On the other hand, Rinaldi's careful research is evident, both in the book itself and in the Author's Note at the end. While I wouldn't necessarily recommend this as an introduction to Rinaldi's writing, her fans are likely to enjoy the book, as well as those who are particularly interested in the Battle of Gettysburg.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

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