The Fighting Ground by Avi
Finished: Mar. 10, 2009
First Published: 1984
Genre: children, YA, historical fiction
Reason for Reading: Read aloud to my 8yo.
It was in the morning when Jonathan first heard the bell.
Comments: Taking place during the span of only two days this is a vivid story of a young boy who rushes off to fight a battle during the American Revolution against a troop of Hessians. When news comes of a Corporal's arrival at the town tavern, Jonathan anxiously asks his father's permission to go, as they work together in the field. His father, who has a badly damaged leg from fighting in the war himself earlier on, says he may not and to get back to the house to help his mother. When he arrives home he tells his mother of the news and urges her that he should go to town and investigate, the mother reluctantly agrees to let him go after Jonathan lies to her that his father has said he can go. At the tavern where there is a call for men at arms, Jonathan gets caught up in the excitement, and at 13 years of age, convinces the Corporal to let him join up.
A boy among men during a fierce battle, Jonathan experiences the true horrors of war. At one point he is kidnapped by the Hessians and escapes. After a terrible incident and reflecting on his treatment by the Hessians he often starts to wonder whether he is on the right side and whose side is he on. Ultimately he must make decisions based his own conscience and sense of right and wrong as opposed to what side of the war he is on.
This is certainly the most intense and life-like book I have read to my 8yo, at first I wasn't too sure whether he would be able to handle the book (recommended for ages 8-12) due to its brutal portrayal of war. However, he showed immense interest and feeling towards the book's plot and main character. There was one spot where he became afraid that the main character might be killed and asked me to skip that part but I could already see on the page that it turned out alright so I told him that; and we got through the scene. Parents may also want to be aware that a certain swear word, "d*mn", is used repeatedly throughout the book as is the taking of the Lord's name in vain. I easily edited these out while reading aloud to my child. There is also one very realistic scene of a dead woman being buried in a hole that was very graphically described and I chose to skip the paragraph and simply state the woman was buried.
This is an engrossing, intense and sometimes brutal display of what a battle was really like during the American Revolution. The author doesn't hold anything back but he does keep the action age-appropriate. A very well-written book with a wonderfully developed main character who ultimately must face his own conscience. The author's message about war is not pro or anti but rather that there is no black and white "enemy" in war; soldiers on both sides can both be either good or bad in their actions.
Avi is one of my favourite current children/YA authors and this is just as good as one can expect from this author. I do recommend the book for those towards the end of the recommended age, but as a read-aloud a parent can easily edit on the fly as they feel needed for the younger age range. I also think that teens would appreciate the complicated themes of war and good and bad that are displayed in the story.