Thursday, November 29, 2007
Writing History - John Wilson, GG's Award Finalist
I've been holding off on posting about John Wilson and his books until the results of the Governor General's awards were announced. John was short-listed with his book The Alchemist's Dream, but lost out to Iain Lawrence's Gemini Summer. (At least we kept it in BC - John lives in Lantzville and Iain down the road, and across the water, on Gabriola.)
I'm a big fan of John's historical fiction and most recently I've read Where Soldiers Lie. This book was short-listed for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction. Where Soldiers Lie tells the story of 16-year-old Jack O'Hara around the time of the 1857 seige of Cawnpore by mutineers from the Indian Army. Jack originated from Canada West, but was farmed out to his aunt and uncle in India after his parents die of smallpox. As the story opens, Jack finds five chapattis on the verandah. He thinks this was a careless act of the servants, but, in fact, as he learns from his friend Hari, the chapattis are a declaration of war. What follows is a whirlwind of action as Jack, Hari, Alice (daughter of a general) and Tommy, a friend from the British army, are thrown into the trauma of the mutiny.
In many ways, this is a coming-of-age story with the seige of Cawnpore being the transformative event in young Jack's life. This "adventure" is short, but traumatic. Jack will never be the same after it ends. The story is violent and gory at times, but such is war. I feel that John strikes a great balance -- no doubt he had to water-down the actual reality of the tragic and bloody events, yet he still provides us with a realistic account of the chaos. It is as time very graphic and I think that's a good thing -- teen readers should be able to "take it." We are there with Jack and his friends, rooting for them all and hoping for their safety and the well-being of their loved ones.
Of particular interest is the connection between this story and the history of John's family. I won't spoil it -- read the book and you'll find out. Check out John's blog, too, there's lots of information on his books and a great essay on boys and reading, Eviscerating Noddy.