Like a River; A Civil War Novel by Kathy Cannon Wiechman Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

Like a RiverLike a River; A Civil War Novel by Kathy Cannon Wiechman; Calkins Creek, 2015.  336 pages; $17.95 (hardcover); reading level: ages 10 and up.

The stage is deftly set in the first two pages of this remarkable novel:  we are in Ohio, the Civil War is raging, and fifteen-year-old, Leander Jordan (“Jordan like the river”) wants to prove to his family he’s as much a man as his older bother Nate, who announces he’s going to enlist and fight for the Union. The simple, restrained third-person southern narration leads us to believe we have all the time in the world even as events tumble forward into an ominous future. There’s an accident and it’s Leander (lying about his age), not Nate, who enlists along with his brother’s friend Given. Wounded in the most humiliating of circumstances, Leander lands in a home-turned-hospital in Rome, Georgia. He’s tended by and draws close to Paul Settles, another soldier who’s enlisted under false pretenses. We leave Leander in the hospital and follow his new friend through the second half of the story – back to war, a brief skirmish, capture, and on to a year-long battle for survival in the notorious prison at Andersonville, Georgia, where Given is also held captive. When the war ends, and we’re steaming up the Mississippi River toward home yet another catastrophe strikes. The Sultana explodes, almost, but not quite, dashing our hopes for a happy ending. Leander does indeed become a man and Paul’s words from his Pap, “…folks is like rivers, ever a-changin’ and ever a-changin’ others,” lead to wisdom necessary to redeem the horrors of war. The historical facts upon which this story is based are carefully documented in an extensive author’s note and bibliography but it’s the details not captured there – from bugs to latrines to the feel of a rifle exploding and hunger gnawing at your innards- that make this debut novel so awfully, awfully fine.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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