Soldier Boyby Brian Burks
This gripping historical novel set during the final years of the Indian Wars explores army life in the American West as it details one boy’s struggle to become a man.
Children's Literature - Margaret JacksonJohnny "The Kid" McBane is a teenager on his own in 1876. He makes money-a lot of it-as a prizefighter in Chicago's saloons and gambling houses. But Johnny is forced to leave town when he has a falling out with his manager. Johnny heads West joins the army and ends up in General Custer's calvary. While he is never one to shy away from a fight, Johnny is not so sure that killing Indians is the right thing to do. He loves being in the army-it's the first time he felt like he belongs somewhere-but being a soldier is a lot more complicated than he thought. A fascinating story that clips right along.
School Library JournalGr 6-9When prizefighter Johnny McBane's life is threatened, he flees Chicago and joins the U.S. Cavalry, even though he is underage. The new recruit has never ridden a horse, nor fired a rifle; nevertheless, he acquits himself well during an unduly severe training period. Ultimately assigned to serve under the legendary Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, Johnny harbors mixed emotions about the army's Indian policy and the impending confrontation with the Sioux. In a predictable climax, Johnny and the entire Seventh Cavalry fall at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Though this sober tale seems to illustrate the saying that "life is hard and then you die," Johnny's indomitable spirit adds an inspirational dimension. The plot is simplistic and the characterizations of military personnel are generally stereotypical, yet readers will care about Johnny and be saddened by his fate. The strongest feature of this easy-to-read novel is the realistic portrayal of a 19th-century cavalryman's harsh existence.Pat Katka, formerly at San Diego Public Library
Kirkus ReviewsJohnny "The Kid" McBane, forced to flee from his crooked bare-knuckle boxing promoter in Chicago, enlists in the cavalry by lying about his age. After some initial hazing, he is posted to Custer's Seventh Cavalry at Fort Lincoln. There he makes a few friends, endures some pranks, and gets ready to move against the Indians in the spring. This exciting story from Burks (Runs With Horses, 1995) is marred: Readers who seize upon the introductory note's mention of "thoroughly researched historical data" will come away from the novel with the impression that army life of the period consisted mainly of vicious hazing and dangerous practical jokes and little in the way of training, duties in camp, barracks life, planning, or strategy. The ending is shockingly abrupt: The first Indian encounter and first battle occur only in the final three pages, and Johnny is killed in the last two paragraphs without firing a shot. It's a realistic ending, in a narrative not driven by realism; it may show how pointless war is, but it may also make readers feel as if they've been taken for a ride.
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