The Civil War of Amos Abernathy by Michael Leali

Published by HarperCollins

Summary:  Amos Abernathy loves history, and it’s a good thing because his mother runs the Chickaree County (Illinois) Living History Project.  Amos enjoys his work there as an interpreter, working with his best friend Chloe.  When a boy named Ben starts volunteering, Amos develops a crush, but Ben is ambivalent about whether or not he’s gay.  The three kids discover an interest in people written out of history, like those who were LGBTQ+, or Black like Chloe.  The narrative goes back and forth between Amos’s first-person narration of the present and letters he wrote the previous year to a (deceased) Civil War trans man named Albert D. J. Cashier.  In the letters, Amos describes his relationship with Ben, how it ends, and how Ben refuses to speak to him.  He also reveals a secret project that has to do with the kids presenting untold history to the public.  This presentation is the culmination of the story, where the past catches up with the present, and Amos, Ben, and Chloe get to express who they really are through their passion for history.  304 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  There’s lots going on in this story which would make an interesting book club choice with plenty to discuss about who has been written out of history.  The alternating chapters of letters describing the past and Amos narrating the present make for an engaging structure.

Cons:  Michael Leali makes a few rookie mistakes in this debut novel, like occasionally crossing the line between good story with a message and a story with an agenda. There also aren’t a lot of shades of gray in portraying characters who are either a little too good to be true or completely misguided/evil.

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