March 22, 2014 by kristin
My own novel is a story about two young people trying to find a way to be together in the midst of the Civil War, so it’s no wonder I was drawn to I Shall Be Near to You. Based on the accounts of the 250-some-odd women who secretly served as soldiers in the Civil War, it’s the story of fictional Rosetta Wakefield, who disguises herself as a man and follows her new husband Jeremiah into the Union army.
Rosetta is the sort of girl more at home helping her father with the farm work than staying cooped up inside mending shirts. Jeremiah is the one boy in their small town who appreciates her and loves her for who she is.
When Jeremiah leaves for the Union army shortly after their marriage, Rosetta can’t tolerate sitting and waiting, being bossed around by his grim mother and harassed by the town bully. She decides to cut off her hair, put on Jeremiah’s clothes, and enlist in the army, too.
Jeremiah and the other boys from town – once her friends – aren’t exactly thrilled to see her. They worry they’ll have to guard her in battle, or do her special favors to protect her secret, but Rosetta isn’t the kind of girl for ask for favors.
I Shall Be Near to You is written in first person from Rosetta’s point of view, and hers is a head I was happy to inhabit for a few days while reading this book. The voice and language the author (Erin Lindsay McCabe) uses to convey Rosetta’s thoughts and feelings is absolutely flawless. Rosetta feels very much like a real, whole person, as do all the supporting characters.
The Civil War setting – farms, military camps, hospitals, battlefields – is also rendered so completely that reading the book feels like stepping back into 1862. This is not a book that glosses over the ugly parts of life or War. Rosetta has to live in this world, has to see these things and try to make her peace with them, and so we the readers do, too.
My favorite historical novels are the ones that take me to a place and show me a small glimpse of what it was like to be alive, and to be a woman, in a different time. I read this one hungrily, keyed up with the characters as they headed into their first battle, desperate – and yet dreading – to know who might be killed or maimed or heartbroken.
The romance between Rosetta and Jeremiah was also beautifully and authentically written. Not at all melodramatic or cheesy, just real. I found myself remembering those early days with my own husband, when I don’t doubt I would’ve gone anywhere to be near to him.
I have a feeling I’ll be rereading this book again in the future. Wish I had the hard copy now instead of the e-book, so it could take a place on my shelf with the many other books that carved themselves on my heart.
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