Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Review: Firebrand by Sarah MacTavish

by Sarah MacTavish
Dove Hollow Books
YA Historical
404 pages

The truth might set them free, but at what cost?

In the summer of 1860, when slavery ruled the heart of America, two young abolitionists discover how dangerous it can be to believe in freedom for all.

Saoirse Callahan’s family is broken. Hunger forced them out of Ireland and they still struggle to survive in their new home, where scorching Texas droughts threaten their small farm. Then, on one blazing Sunday afternoon, a series of mysterious fires devastates the region. Whispered rumors of a slave rebellion soon flame into a statewide panic. Vigilantes scour the countryside for arsonists, targeting foreigners and slaves in a bloodthirsty witch-hunt. Saoirse is determined to find out how the fires really started, but the more questions she asks, the more she puts her family and friends in danger. And the truth may be more than she can handle.

Meanwhile, safe in Pennsylvania, Westleigh Kavanagh can call himself an abolitionist with little fear. But when he realizes his father’s new boarder is actually a runaway slave, he must keep the wanted man’s identity a secret. Because Westleigh’s father is the sheriff, and bound by law to help capture fugitives, whether he believes in slavery or not. Westleigh wants to protect his father from the truth, but the longer he lies, the greater chance they will all be caught. Then Westleigh makes his own discovery—an old forbidden journal that holds secrets of his father’s past. Secrets that lead to the Callahans. Secrets that, if unraveled, could destroy both families.


Historical fiction is a genre I don't hit often, but since I've been taking an interest in this time period lately, I thought I'd give this one a try. I'm more than glad I did.

Sarah MacTavish does a marvelous job of bringing the past to life. This is told from two different points of view, one from a character living in the North, and one from the South. Each has a very different perspective on the world around them, which grants the entire plot a broadness not usually found in stories set during the abolitionist time period. But it's not only these two characters which draw in, rather there's a rich cast. So many people, each with their own experiences, desires, fears and troubles. This is a book which grabs on many levels and builds a realistic world.

What I really loved about this was the refreshing dialogue. Although set in the past, the characters never feel rusty, flowered or forced. The exchanges, thoughts and feelings come across naturally, over-stepping the feeling of being from the past. The fears and troubles come to life, making it clear how difficult it was to stand up for what was right. After reading this, the abolitionists take on a new dimension and earned respect. In other words--although historical, this is by no means a dry story. There is so much life and action, tension and emotions, that I believe it's something many YAers will have no trouble diving into and devouring every page. Best of all, when the last page is done, the story and characters don't disappear but remain filed away as a part of this time period and change how the reader looks back at it.

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