Girl in Blue

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
November/December 2002

By Ann Rinaldi, Reviewed by Sarah Bollenbach

Girl in Blue book cover

Girl in Blue by Ann Rinaldi; Scholastic
Press: New York, 2001; $15.95

Girl in Blue was one of the most fascinating and suspenseful books I have ever read. I could hardly put it down!

Girl in Blue is a story about a sixteen-year-old girl, named Sarah Louisa Wheelock, who disguises herself as a teenage boy and runs away to serve in the Union army during the American Civil War.

Ann Rinaldi captivates you with her story and her characters. Although there are no illustrations in the book, I feel there really is no need for them. She paints a vivid picture of each of the characters, in appearance, actions, and personalities. For example, Sarah was described as a sweet, quiet girl, who was always there for anyone who needed her. But she was also described as the one in the family who always supplied them with fresh venison for dinner. She loved hunting in the woods, carrying her father’s rifle, which she had named Fanny. Throughout the book, her character traits were displayed through the different experiences and problems she had. When she served in the army, she was brave, and although it was very difficult to keep disguised who she was, she kept going and pretended to be Private Neddy Compton. She was very gifted in medicine and doctoring. She knew many remedies to cure diseases that even the so-called doctors in the army had not been taught.

Rinaldi described Sarah’s experiences in this book so well, and realistically, I felt like I was truly a part of the story. For example, at one point in the book, Sarah crosses the borders, into the Rebel territory. She is stopped and searched, and the suspense in the book was captivating. Sarah was carrying some very important letters to deliver, and if they were discovered, it could mean death for her and many others. When Sarah received word that her father had died, and she was grieving, I felt like I had known him as well and was sad too. My great-grandmother died recently, and that was really sad. She had been a wonderful great-grandmother to me and my three brothers. She would always send us a card with money in it for our birthdays and at Christmas. Whenever she was able, she would come visit us, or come to our plays or piano recitals. In a way, I can relate to Sarah, when she found out her father had died.

There was one character in the book named Rose Greenhow. Sarah was assigned to work as a maid for her, after Sarah had been discovered to be a girl. Mrs. Greenhow was suspected of being a Rebel spy, and Sarah was given the job to find out whether or not that was true through her duties as her maid. Rose Greenhow was the most stuck-up person I have ever read about! She was always cranky and grumpy, even though her every want and need were catered to immediately. Sarah must have been in an awful position living with her! I know I would hate having to constantly be wondering if anyone knew who I was, or where I was from, like Sarah, and having to watch my back around every street corner.

At one point in the book, Sarah went home to visit her family. She was still disguised as a boy, dressed in the Union Army’s uniform. Her mother did not recognize her, but her brother Ben did. She and Ben had always been close. Sarah really struggled with wanting to tell her mother that she wasn’t Private Neddy Compton, but that she was her daughter, Sarah Wheelock. I can’t imagine being away from my family for more than a year, and then going back home to all the familiar smells, sights, and places, and still not be able to reveal who I really was. Sarah must have felt awful.

This was a wonderful and exciting book. I could read it several times. Girl in Blue revealed the hardships of the war in the times of slavery and showed what people had to endure. I came away feeling like I had made a new friend in Sarah Wheelock. I love the Civil War, and this book made it even more exciting.

Girl in Blue Sarah Bollenbach

Sarah Bollenbach, 13
Coatesville, Pennsylvania

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