I must admit that I had a love/hate relationship with this book.
First of all it moved very quickly, I actually read it casually, in about 3 days.
Secondly I loved the pictures that were painted and how you could really "see" what was happening in the battles. I thought there were some beautiful analogies.
As far as the story itself, I had very mixed feelings. I loved how honest the book was. For example I thought it was so true to life, how "the youth" had dreamed of battles all his life, had fought with his mother for months about enlisting, gone on to enlist without her blessing and then when the battle actually came, he had never wanted this, he was forced to join and he was disgusted by his stupid commanders.
I also found it true how he had so many flash backs of his previous life in the heat of different circumstances.
I appreciated his self doubt about whether he could be brave in battle or not, or if he would run. I saw so much of how I would be in his trying to get others to admit to something, without he himself admitting he was scared. But I thought that he would get to the battle and adrenaline would take over and he would perform just fine. His running did surprise me. Although, I was first inclined to do some justifying myself. He had followed others, he thought that everyone would run. He wasn't the first to take off. But the way he handled things afterwards very much upset me. I was especially appalled by the way that he left the injured man, how he hated him, just because he wanted to know where his wound was. A dying man was trying to care more about the youth than himself and in return he was left to die a lone. I was disgusted. And later when he returned to his regiment and they assumed that he had fought, been separated and shot and he actually had the audacity to think of ways to make fun of the "loud soldier" because he hadn't died; well, I wanted to reach into the book and smack him!
When he did finally meet his battles and went to another place in his mind and fought very hard, and at times valiantly, I was glad and rejoiced that he had over come his weaknesses.
As a very patriotic person, I was almost moved to tears when he took it upon himself to carry the flag. When he realized how much that it meant to him and never again gave it up.
And I was happy with the ending; how he was able to look back at all he had done honestly. How he was able to admit his mistake and feel guilt without trying to make excuses and justifications, yet he was able to push it aside by seeing the good he had ultimately done as well, so that he was able to move on and go back to a "normal" post military life.
I also believe that there are great life lessons in personal character that can be learned from this book. I think that it might be a little much for my 11 year old, but it is definitely on my list of "my son must read this." (Just a couple years of maturity down the road.)
I'm also glad that we ended up extending the reading time for last months book. Because I tried hard to finish it before starting this one, I ended up reading/finishing it during Independence day weekend and I couldn't help but liken what the battles of the Civil War had to have had in common with those of the Revolutionary War. It made me appreciate again, and all the more, what so many others have sacrificed for me in all the wars that have been fought for my country.
I hope that you enjoyed this quick read as well and I can't wait to read your thoughts on the book.
I hope you had a WONDERFUL holiday.