Reviews for How I Found the Strong
Booklist Monthly Selections - #2 February 2004
Gr. 5-9. Set in Mississippi during the Civil War, this first novel is one of the best of the many recent books about young people in the South caught up in the bloody conflict around them. At 11, Frank wishes he were old enough to join his father and older brother in the Confederate army. Instead he's stuck at home with Ma, his grandparents, and the family slave, Buck. McMullan draws on family stories and on a relative's war diary, and Frank's spare, first-person narrative brings close the battlefield slaughter he witnesses ("a pile of arms and legs, legs that still have socks and shoes on"), and always, the virulent racism (including the neighbors' use of the n-word and the town's lynching of a young teen). The violence isn't sensationalized; the characters are drawn with quiet truth, always from the young white kid's viewpoint; and there's no sentimentality. It's a bit far-fetched that Frank finds his manhood when he saves Pa's life in a battle, but in what is the true heartfelt climax, Frank changes Pa and makes him help Buck escape north. ((Reviewed February 15, 2004)) Copyright 2004 Booklist Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2004 Fall
When his father and brother go off to fight in the Civil War, ten-year-old Shanks stays behind on his family's Mississippi farm. Over the course of two years, several characters die, a new baby is born, and the family frees their young slave, but the novel is so brief that many events feel underdeveloped or unmotivated. Shanks's first-person narrative does provide some moving moments. Copyright 2004 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2004 April #1
Spring of 1861 in Mississippi, with laurel and Indian pipe blooming in the woods, is "too pretty out for a war." But war comes and takes with it Frank Russell's father and older brother. Left home with women, children, and old men, Frank wishes he were his brother Henry. Growing up, observing the people around him, and losing his grandfather, his grandmother, and others, Frank must find the strength to do the right things-to walk a slave to freedom and to save his father's life. Rooted in family history, McMullan's first work for children is exquisitely written, its elegant prose fully up to portraying both the pastoral beauty of Mississippi and the horrors of war. The short, sometimes graphic story carries layers of meaning, evoking the complicated legacies of the South and the new world coming in the war's terrible wake. Match this with Richard Peck's The River Between Us (2003) for a pair of superb Civil War stories. Unforgettable. (author's note) (Fiction. 10+) Copyright Kirkus 2004 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Review 2004 April #2
This often gripping first novel set during the Civil War adopts the perspective of a 10-year-old boy who lives on a small farm in rural Mississippi. As the story opens, Frank, nicknamed Shanks "on account of my skinny legs," vies unsuccessfully for his father's attention and love, believing that Pa prefers even their lone slave, Buck, to him, and envying his 14-year-old brother, Henry, who is about to go off to war with Pa. After their departure, however, Frank's views about the glory of battle and about Southern ideologies change, as he and his family battle hunger and as his relationship with Buck strengthens. Morally ambiguous actions challenge Frank: Grampa leaves the struggling family to pursue personal freedom in Texas; a fugitive Confederate Army deserter sentenced to death delivers Ma's baby. Some feats seem a bit superhuman, such as Frank's heroic save of his father near the Strong River, but McMullan sketches these characters memorably and tempers the drama with wry humor, such as Frank's attempt to fashion his own shoes and go courting. A sobering view of the Civil War and a heartening look at a boy's coming of age. Ages 10-14. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2004 April
Gr 5-8-Ten-year-old Shanks's father and brother march off to war, leaving him behind with his grandparents, pregnant mother, and the family slave, Buck. Eventually, the war comes closer to home, and the wounded are treated in an ill-kempt school. Shanks gradually realizes that Buck is very much a human being with the same feelings, strengths, and weaknesses as other people. When it is time for Ma to give birth, a deserter who is passing through delivers the baby, and Shanks changes his mind about what cowardice is. Each passing season draws him closer to manhood and further away from the belief that slavery is right. Finally, Pa returns home, and the boy convinces him that Buck deserves freedom. They help him escape but are caught in a nightmarish battle. Shanks manages to get his wounded father to safety; because of his courage, he is finally called by his given name, Frank. Based on a family manuscript, this novel is well researched and includes many details about life in Civil War Mississippi. There are several realistic and harrowing scenes, as men undergo amputations and a young slave is brutally hung from a tree. An epilogue tells about Frank's later years. Although this coming-of-age story contains many familiar elements, the first-person narrative lends it immediacy.-Kathryn Kosiorek, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Brooklyn, OH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
VOYA Reviews 2004 June
This account of life on a rural Missisippi farm during the Civil War is based on the experience of the author's grandmother's great-uncle. The first-person, present-tense narrative reads as if it were ten-year-old Frank "Shanks" Russell's personal journal. After Pa and Shanks's fourteen-year-old brother, Henry, join the Confederate Army, Shanks, his mother, her parents, and the family slave, Buck, are left to run the farm. Opposed to the fighting, Grandpa heads West on horseback, never to return. Grandma, a bitter old woman, dies, and with the help of a deserter, Ma gives birth to a girl. As Shanks and Buck struggle to provide food, Shanks notices Buck's loyalty, intelligence, and character, and he begins to question the War and slavery. When Pa returns, missing an arm, he too has a different perspective. Henry has died of pneumonia. After witnessing the lynching of a neighbor's slave, Pa and Shanks decide to escort Buck to the Strong River from which Buck can journey North to freedom The crisply written narrative is full of regional speech and detail, creating a vivid portrait. Shanks's story is simple and straightforward, containing not a whit of self-pity. In the devastating setting, Shanks nonetheless goes through many universal experiences: fearing that he is not good enough in his father's eyes, feeling a simultaneous attraction and awkwardness with girls, developing strong loyalties to family and friends, and questioning the status quo. In the epilogue, twenty-year-old Frank is teaching schoolchildren, preparing to marry, and still pondering the War. He mentions the Ku Klux Klan and marvels over new machines called bicycles. Another era has begun, containing promises of both horror and wonder.-Florence H. Munat 4Q 4P M J Copyright 2004 Voya Reviews.