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The River Between Us

( 33 )


The year is 1861. Civil war is imminent and Tilly Pruitt's brother, Noah, is eager to go and fight on the side of the North. With her father long gone, Tilly, her sister, and their mother struggle to make ends meet and hold the dwindling Pruitt family together. Then one night a mysterious girl arrives on a steamboat bound for St. Louis. Delphine is unlike anyone the small river town has even seen. Mrs. Pruitt agrees to take Delphine and her dark, silent traveling companion in as boarders. No one in town knows ...

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The year is 1861. Civil war is imminent and Tilly Pruitt's brother, Noah, is eager to go and fight on the side of the North. With her father long gone, Tilly, her sister, and their mother struggle to make ends meet and hold the dwindling Pruitt family together. Then one night a mysterious girl arrives on a steamboat bound for St. Louis. Delphine is unlike anyone the small river town has even seen. Mrs. Pruitt agrees to take Delphine and her dark, silent traveling companion in as boarders. No one in town knows what to make of the two strangers, and so the rumors fly. Is Delphine's companion a slave? Could they be spies for the South? Are the Pruitts traitors? A masterful tale of mystery and war, and a breathtaking portrait of the lifelong impact one person can have on another.

Finalist for the 2003 National Book Award, Young People's Literature
Winner of the 2004 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

USA Today
The book is rich in detail about life along the Mississippi and the limited, late war news that further splits communities. Peck captures the light and dark sides of the Pruitt family, the sweetness of tiny moments, the excruciating pain of a distraught mother's words. He writes life-changing scenes reminiscent of the Atlanta pilgrimage that Scarlett O'Hara makes in Gone With the Wind: Tilly and Delphine are confronted with hundreds of wounded and dying soldiers after an exhausting trip to Cairo, and, like Scarlett, roll up their sleeves and find a strength that neither knew she had. — Lynne Perri
The Washington Post
This unusual Civil War novel really boosts Peck's credentials as America's best living author for young adults. Not only is it a gripping yarn -- about two enigmatic women and a small Southern Illinois town in the momentous first year of the war -- but it is nearly as intricately structured as Wuthering Heights, with multiple narrators and tales-within-tales enhancing both the mystery and the wistfulness of long-ago events. — Elizabeth Ward
Publishers Weekly
In our Best Books citation, PW wrote, "The author crafts his characters impeccably and threads together their fates in surprising ways that shed light on the complicated events of the Civil War." Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Richard Peck won a 2000 Newbery for A Year Down Yonder and a 1998 Newbery honor for the prequel, A Long Way from Chicago (both $5.99 from Puffin). Both books are steeped in history and strong characters. So is his newest, The River Between Us . The main character is fifteen-year-old Tilly Pruitt who lives in Grand Tower, a muddy little Mississippi River town. Tilly worries about what the impending Civil War may do to her already threatened family. The situation is gripping, but it's Tilly's voice that captures readers with a the mix of humor and homespun that shone in Peck's other books. Soon a second character enters who sets mystery into motion. On a "velvet night" a ship arrives from New Orleans and two figures come down the plank, back lit by the boat's lanterns. One, Delphine Duval, is a beauty, encased in taffeta and satins. The other is dressed plainly and it is quickly assumed she is Delphine's maidservant. The two take up residence at Tilly's home and the family is immediately struck with Delphine's fine manners, elegant possessions, and generosity. Delphine is shrouded in mystery of the exotic New Orleans life she describes and "her conversation was a lacework fan that opened and closed, concealing and revealing." The strength of the two characters and the relationship they establish transcends the horrors of war and the prejudices of gender and race, and highlight lesser known historical facts and make them real. 2003, Dial, Ages 11 up.
— Susie Wilde
This latest historical novel by Peck will win critical acclaim and also appeal to YA readers, even high school readers. It is set during the Civil War in a little town along the Mississippi River, where a family lives slightly apart from their neighbors. Tilly is surprised when her mother takes in two strange young women, Delphine and Calinda, journeying up the river from New Orleans as the war begins. Delphine is enchanting and Tilly is surprised to learn they are about the same age; 15. Tilly's older brother Noah is definitely fascinated. And Calinda understands Tilly's strange little sister, who sees visions; mostly visions of horror to come. The horror, of course, is the war. Noah joins the Northern army, and after a terrible battle nearby, Tilly and Delphine go to find him wounded in the ghastly hospital tents and eventually save his life, with the help of a young Army doctor. Peck tells the story by peeling off layers, saving the best surprise for the end, which I won't give away here. His mechanism is introducing the family history through the eyes of a boy living in 1916, whose father, a doctor, takes the boy to visit his elderly relatives; Tilly, Noah, Delphine, and Dr. Hutchings; before he himself goes off to Europe to take care of the wounded in another Great War. The narrative voice shifts to Tilly at 15, who relates the events of 1861, before returning in the final chapter to the boy in 1916 once again. Peck has achieved the highest awards for his work in children's literature, and this novel is among his best work for YAs. KLIATT Codes: JS*; Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2003, Penguin Putnam, Dial, 164p.,
— Claire Rosser
Mixing vibrant characters, a gripping plot, and historical facts, Peck cooks a literary gumbo worthy of New Orleans' finest chefs. (Or "Nouvelle Orleans" as character Delphine would say.) Irksome dialect aside, this book is sumptuous. Fifteen-year-old Howard's story in the Model-T era complements grandmother Tillie's story of fifty-five years earlier, when she has enough troubles with her sister's visions and her brother facing war. Then two Louisiana women waltz into their lives, with southern drawls and surprises beneath their petticoats. The town starts whispering, the Civil War begins, and Tillie's life changes forever. Peck spices up his stew with showboats, apparitions, romance, battle, and twists around every corner in this great read, even for those who dislike historical fiction. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Dial, 176p,
— Jing Cao, Teen Reviewer
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-In the opening days of the Civil War, a genteel but worldly wise young woman and her companion step off a steamboat from New Orleans onto the dock of a provincial Illinois town. This richly told and evocatively realized novel tells how the strangers are taken into the Pruitts' home (and into their hearts), changing all of the characters' lives forever. Winner of the 2003 Scott O'Dell Award for historical fiction. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"Imagine an age when there were still people around who'd seen U.S. Grant with their own eyes, and men who'd voted for Lincoln." Fifteen-year-old Howard Leland Hutchings visits his father's family in Grand Tower, Illinois, in 1916, and meets four old people who raised his father. The only thing he knows about them is that they lived through the Civil War. Grandma Tilly, slender as a girl but with a face "wrinkled like a walnut," tells Howard their story. Sitting up on the Devil's Backbone overlooking the Mississippi River, she "handed over the past like a parcel." It's a story of two mysterious women from New Orleans, of ghosts, soldiers, and seers, of quadroons, racism, time, and the river. Peck writes beautifully, bringing history alive through Tilly's marvelous voice and deftly handling themes of family, race, war, and history. A rich tale full of magic, mystery, and surprise. (author's note) (Fiction. 12+)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142403105
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/21/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 68,094
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.24 (h) x 0.49 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Peck
Born in Decatur, IIlinois, Richard Peck has written over 18 novels for young readers. He is the winner of the 1990 Margaret A. Edwards Award, a prestigious award sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association in cooperation with School Library Journal; the 1990 National Council of Teachers of English/ALAN Award for outstanding contributions to young adult literature; and the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award.
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Read an Excerpt

The Rob Roy was full to the gills with passengers. They must have been Yankees hurrying home in case war trapped them. And there were those people who seemed always on the river, restless travelers. The railings were jammed tight with dark figures. I saw the firefly glow of the gentlemen's seegars. I imagined I saw diamonds within the ladies' flowing cloaks, and emeralds in their hair.

I couldn't picture where they'd come from, where they were going. Did I know enough to wonder?

We worked our way forward to see Noah and Curry and the other boys running up the gangplank for the freight. We all waved and waved till the pilot up on the Texas deck bothered to wave back. What a sight it all was, this brilliance in the velvet night.

People were crazy to hear the news. They called up to the passengers leaning on the rails. "What's it like down yonder? What's conditions at New Orleans?"

"Port's open!" someone called back. "Business as usual. Still shippin' cotton. But we was boarded and searched at Cairo."

We drank it all in and turned over every word. Then lo and behold, two figures were coming down the plank. Will I ever forget that first sight of them? Two figures, backlit by the boat, come down to us by lantern light.

A young lady was in the lead, in ballooning crinolines. Heavens, I'd never seen such skirts -- rustling taffeta stretched wide over hoops. Her top part was encased in a cut-plush cape, with tassels. And her bonnet. My stars, I pushed people aside to get a look at it. A bonnet too dark to make out except for the ice-blue satin it was lined with, and a whole corsage of artificial violets planted inside next to her face. An enormous satin bow tied beneath her chin.

And then her face, framed with long dark curls beside the violets. Her eyes were large and darkly fringed. Her Cupid's bow of a mouth too dark to be as nature intended. She must be from New Orleans. No town between here and there could have produced her. The slant of the gangplank all but upturned her. She clung to the rope with one gloved hand. From the other hung a round hatbox covered in elegant wallpaper.

She turned back to the young woman behind her. I saw this other one only in silhouette at first. She was narrower, darker, shrouded in a long plain cloak. In place of a bonnet or a traveling hat, her head was tied up in a bandanna. It was of some fine silken material, and the tails of the knot were artfully arranged Her hands were full of various boxes and reticules. The two of them murmured together.

Behind them a deckhand staggered under a humpbacked Saratoga trunk. At the end of the plank he very nearly stepped through the young lad's hoops. When he swung the trunk off his back, it lit in the mud.

By then, I was standing as close to the young lady as I am to you. She turned right to me. "Il est saoul!" she said. Her great fringed eyes grew wider.

"Come again?" I said, in a trance.

"He's drunk, that one. All men are drunkards! And the men on this boat, all of them spit, spit, spit." She pointed back to the Rob Roy in case I'd missed seeing it.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 33 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 33 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 24, 2011

    MUST READ!!!

    This book is one of my favorite books. I had to pick out a civil war book for a history assignment. Once I got into I realized how good it was. Who new history was so awesome?

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 5, 2011

    The River Between Us book review by adb3301:

    I¿m not a historian but The River Between Us by Richard Peck seemed like an accurate account about what life was like a hundred years ago. He tells of interesting events of 1916 with the new Ford Model T touring car. It made me think of how wonderful we have it now with the ease of transportation. He also takes you back to 1681 before the Civil War and the hardships of life. It was interesting and humbling to learn how peopled lived.
    I was skeptical about reading this book because I don¿t like war books but this book was much better than I anticipated. I enjoyed the mysteries that kept you thinking and for me a few surprise twists I didn¿t see coming¿or think he would put in the book. The characters in the story I found interesting and wanted to learn more about. I felt he kept the story moving along at a good pace and I didn¿t get bored. I would definitely recommend this book. In fact I plan on giving it to my friend¿s son who is 12 and loves history and learning about the Civil War.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2007


    I am in 8th grade. this book helped me realize how fortunate i am in my life. i would definitely recommend this to anyone from ages 12- 17. :-'

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The War:Then and Now

    Have you ever heard of a Civil War love story? Well,here's one and more. Taking place in 1861,this is a compelling story of one girls journey to save her brother,not only from the war,but from himself. Recommended for ages 12 and up this is a story about what sacrifice really means.
    When two strangers land in little muddy town on the banks of the Mississippi River the towns folk can't make anything of it. This though is where Tilly Pruitt and her twin brother Noah meet the people who will change their lives forever. Richard Peck has written over thirty novels for young adults. Some of his more well known include:A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way From Chicago.
    He was the first children's author to receive the National Humanities Medal."My mother and her brother are twins. You'll meet Noah. They live together in the homeplace. My dad and mother and aunt."This is really where the story begins.
    Some of the most important points in the story are when Noah leaves for war. This is a real turning point in the story. This is when Tilly realizes that the war may really take her brother from her. The second would be when Tilly's Mama makes her leave on the one condition that she not come back without her brother. This is a real problem because during the Civil War many did not come home alive. "But I couldn't go empty handed,without Noah. It wasn't me Mama wanted" This quote shows what Tilly had to do in order to go back home after the war. This story has accurately depicted the hardships that many families went through. Compared to other books of the same genre this is an amazing book. It stands up well to other books that I have read. Though with this story you might want a dictionary on hand because it is hard to understand.
    In this story you can read about what sacrifice means. When two strangers come into town Tilly's mother takes them in. With two fancying each other and Noah ready to go to war anything can happen. Overall this book is great, anyone who reads it will enjoy it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    The River Between Us Book Review

    Over the summer I read "The River Between Us" by Richard Peck. At first, I WAS NOT INTERESTED IN THE BOOK. Some parts were confusing, and I had to go back sometimes to make sure of facts, and double-check details. However, after reaching chapter three, this book and I became inseparable. I am very glad that I chose it. "The River Between Us" is about a girl named Tilly growing up at the onset of the Civil War. Although the first and last chapters are narrated by her grandson, the novel focuses on her and adventures with two New Orleans women who come and live with her family. I think the theme of this novel is growing up when you need to, even if you're not ready. And also falling back into the past, whether you actually lived through it, or is you're just listening to your grandmother's stories. At the end of the book, one particular section stood out to me. "At first I didn't know how to listen to tales so old. But we began to edge across the years towards each other, Grandma Tilly and I. I began to see the yellow lamplight in their faces, just a flicker at first. I heard calliope music wavering over the water." This told me more than anything else how vividly a story can bring an old time back. This book does a great job of describing even the tiniest detail to make you feel connected in many ways. I would gladly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys drama, action, sorrow, or joy. It is a wonderful book.

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  • Posted March 2, 2009

    I expected better

    I really like Richard Peck, but not this book as much. It did not deal much with the civil war. The issue of race was interesting and well done. I didn't like the immorality of the main character--it promotes the view that marriage is not important in a loving relationship. Since this book is geared to late elementary and junior high students, I felt it was inappropriate. Peck should have concentrated on the race issue and left the "marriage is a piece of paper" issue alone.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2008

    Good but hard to understand

    i love this book and reccomend it to people but i still cannot understand little sections of this book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2008

    A reviewer

    This book helped my understand more of the life during the civil war. A book for the ages.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2007

    Kid's Review

    The book that I am reviewing is The River Between Us. It is by Richard Peck. It has 158 pages and its genre is historical fiction. The book takes place in Grand Tower, Illinois, and is very intriguing. The River Between Us is about Tilly Pruitt and her brother Noah. The Civil War is going on, and Noah is eager to go. He is tall, skinny and handsome, and nobody wants him to go. A beautiful girl arrives on a steamboat from New Orleans and says she is headed for St. Louis. She is very fancy, and no one like that has been to Grand Tower in a long time, and people are very suspicious. Delphine, 'the girl who arrived in a steam boat' also has a black girl with her. People of Grand Tower are wondering if the black girl is a slave. Or, are they spies of the South? Tilly has grown a good relationship with Delphine. The towns people are wondering if the Pruitt¿s are traitors for taking in ¿spie¿Plus, all the drama is driving Noah nuts! All he wants to do now is go into the war, fight, and, hopefully come back. Tilly Pruitt is a headstrong girl who thinks her own opinions, but is kind of scared to express them. Noah Pruitt is a quiet and sensitive boy, but he is very, very, brave. Delphine is another headstrong girl with her own opinions 'and shows them', but definitely shows her like or dislike of others¿. My favorite part is when the showboat comes to town and everyone is dressed up nice 'the description is great'. I love when they are playing the music and Calinda is asked to dance the Calinda. The description is awesome. I recommend this for people who love historical fiction and can stay focused when reading a book. The book goes from one thing to another and is really hard to follow sometimes. All in all it is really good.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2007

    The River Between Us

    The book The River Between Us by Richard Peck is a great historical fiction read. It is only 164 pages. It takes place in Grand Tower Illinois in 1861. The 4 main characters are Tilly, Delphine, Calinda, and Noah. Tilly is very caring about her family, Delphine is elegant and attracting, Calinda is Delphine¿s accompany, and Noah is Tilly¿s brother who wants to fight for the north in the civil war. The characters are all in their teens. The plot is that when the mysterious girls Delphine and Calinda appear from the south and Tilly and her family take them in, everybody in Grand tower wonders if Delphine and Calinda are spies or something from the south, the US being at war with themselves (North against South). Also, Noah goes to war and the girls then have a mission to help him. My favorite part is when Delphine and Tilly see all the soldiers coming off the ship from a battle. All of the Mothers, siblings, sweethearts and friends are crowded on the dock to see their friends, sons, and brothers, coming off the ship. Tilly and Delphine are hoping to catch sight of Noah. The crowd is pushing each other around. Then all the soldiers with blood soaked uniforms, and some without limbs finally come off the ship. I like this part because of its description and it shows how much Tilly cares about her brother Noah. I would recommend this book because it is very interesting, it has a lot of detail, and it is well written. I would give this book a 4 star rating.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2007

    The River Between Us

    This is a very interesting book. I love when Delphine comes to live with the Pruitt family...thats amazing. I love the way the book gets into the war and what it was like to be poor during this time and them have someone in a higher class come along. It is interesting how the relationships between darker people, slaves, and whites were displayed. Throughout this book, it makes you realize how hard it was back then for some people.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2006


    This outstanding book is great and loveabul book. I am only in 6th grade and understand every thing about this book! I really enjoyed it and i hate to read! If i enjoyed this every one most likely will!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2006


    I was also assigned to read this book. It was a literature circle book me and two of my best friends chose to read and all of us agreed that it made absolutley no sense and is very confusing. It goes from one person writing to another. But I sort of enjoyed it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2006

    The River Between Us

    Will racial tesoins fly between the towns people? During the mid 1800's in Illinois the people don't know what to think of this slave and her owner who just arrived on a steamboat. Of cousre in Illinois the people aren't used to seeing an inslaved person. Eventually, the Pruitts are given trouble by the towns people during the Civil War. Noah goes off to war to fight for freedom. Will he be able to survive? He is the most improtant person in the family since Pa has gone away. There is a hint of love between the characters and somewhat of a surprise. This is from a females point of veiw and historical-fiction. Richard Peck writes using vivdly descriptive words to describe so may scenes in the book. It includes so many details of everyday life in it. I suggest a female between the ages of 11 and 16 to read this book. If you like this book I suggest reading some of Richard Peck's other books. Enjoy!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2006

    A historical fiction Mystery Book

    The River between us is an amazing book that takes place in 1916, and goes back and fotward in time. The book takes place during the Civil War when this intriguing French girl comes on a steamboat, trying to get to St.Louis. The character is filled with mystery and has a secret that will keep you reading all night. It was a bit confusing because at first I didn't realize there was a flash back in the book, but was still very good. My favorite part of the book was the end of the flash back. It came as a huge surprise and my heart nearly jumped out as I was reading it. This is an awesome book and I enjoyed it soooo much!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2006

    about The River BEtween us!!*

    The River Between Us was a historical fiction book filled of friendship, family, courage, enchantment, mystery, and war. The book took place in 1916, during the Civil war.The story is a flashback of the young man's grandmother, Tilly Pruitt, who lived in Grand Tower,IL. in a small Mississippi River town along with her brother Noah, her little sister Cass, and their mother. Most characters had there own unique ways. Tilly is a normal girl from the mid 1800's who is hard working and very kind. For example, when she visits the hospital that Noah is in, she helps all of the people there feel better and gives them rest. While she is there, she works for the men to help save as many as she can from the bottom of her heart. Cass, Tilly's sister had the supernatural visions of where she could see people suffering and that's where it all started. One day, Cass ran home crying that she had seen a horrible vision of Union and Confederate soldiers dying. Then, Noah soon took matters into his own hands and joined the union army. After that, a steam boat with two mysterious young ladies,had arrived from New Orleans. So, Mama offered them into there home, and after that, the Pruitts' lives were changed forever. Delphine Duval, with her fancy dresses and hooped skirts, fascinates the family. Whereas, Calinda is a darker skinned women and is known to be the slave for Delphine when really, she is her sister, in which Delphine is part of an African American family owning to a rich white man. Throughout the book some significant things started to happen. Tilly's twin brother, Noah, started falling in love with Delphine, who shows Tilly a world of possibilities beyond her home. When Noah runs away to war, Tilly and Delphine go after him, find him in the horror of an army tent hospital, and bring him back but their world is changed forever. Peck's mysterious ways drive the plot and reveal the history. A final note is a grandson writing 50 years after the story takes place--make the reading even better. It's an excellent story that shows racism everywhere and young people facing war, not sure what side to be on or why. The river between us had great historical fiction added to it about the Civil wars, etc. For example,like the rest of the hospitals during the Civil war, they were un sanitized and dirty, just like the one occurring in the book. There were many people just like Noah that had a leg or an arm cut off due to their injuries. And many African Americans fleed to the North just like Delphine and Calinda to escape the Confederacy. This historical fiction was one of a kind.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2005


    I was assigned to read this, and I didn't like it that much. It was very confusing, and my classmates agreed with me.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2005

    Great Story!

    I am a huge historical fiction reader, and this book is everything that I love about this genre. It has a very realistic young man and women has the young protagonists. IT really will appeal to a lot of people. It is my first read of Mr. Peck's but I am lokking forward to picking up many more of his books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2005


    I zoomed right through this story. It was very interesting. I never thought that I would ever read a Civil War story. Apparently only Peck's stories. This book is highly reccomended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2004


    This is a really good book about a sixteen year old girl Tilly, whose brother goes to fight in the Civil War with tragic consequensese, including the lose of a loved one.

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