Sunday, January 11, 2009

William Henry is a Fine Name

Author Cathy Gohlke's William Henry is a Fine Name is one of the best books I read in 2008. It's one I read during the holiday season, so am late in posting my review because of snow, rain, holiday activities, and, well, you know.

William Henry is a Fine Name is the story of two thirteen-year-old boys who have been friends all their lives. It's set in the antebellum (I love that word!) period in Maryland. Robert, who is white, sees his life as peaceful while the black William Henry knows about the evil that surrounds them in those abolition vs. slavery times.

Late night mysteries involving Robert's father threaten their family. Events move forward rapidly, forcing Robert to recognize firsthand the cruelty and injustice of slavery--the South's "peculiar institution."

Gohlke does a superb job of showing us the South of 1859 through the eyes of an adolescent boy. She doesn't rely on trite stereotypes to tell this suspenseful tale. Every character, black or white, is fully fleshed out.

The final sixty pages are so intense I laid awake thinking about them for a long time after I finished the book. I thoroughly recommend William Henry is a Fine Name, both for Gohlke's storytelling and for the clear-eyed look she provides into our nation's sometimes shameful past.

William Henry was the deserving winner of the 2007 Young Adult Christy Award. Don't let the "young adult" tag stop you. I'm a tad older than "young adult," and this book held me in its grip from first page to last.

I recently finished reading the sequel, I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires, which picks up Robert's life after the start of the Civil War. It's another winner for Gohlke.

1 comment:

  1. Although I am a Christian writing juvenile fiction, I am not usually a fan of the genre because there is so much mediocrity. This is a major exception with writing on a par with a Newberry winner. Well worth the read no matter what your age.