Voice from the Border

Voice from the Border

by Pamela Smith Hill

Where was life taking her? 

Fifteen-year-old Margaet Reeves O'Neill isn't likely to forget the day the war came home to Springfield, Missouri. That was the day her father left to join the Confederacy, fighting for principles he no longer believed in, but for a state he loved. It was also the day she met Percival Wilder, a flirtatious


Where was life taking her? 

Fifteen-year-old Margaet Reeves O'Neill isn't likely to forget the day the war came home to Springfield, Missouri. That was the day her father left to join the Confederacy, fighting for principles he no longer believed in, but for a state he loved. It was also the day she met Percival Wilder, a flirtatious Yankee officer who, instead of being her enemy, became an intimate friend.

Now Federal troops have arrived in Springfield. Reeves watches neighbors turn against one another—some supporting Secessionists, others the Union—and she witnesses generosity and bravery side by side with greed and looting. The life she took for granted—her home, family, the very truths she's always held dear—is changing before her eyes....

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 6-8-This historical novel introduces a complex aspect of the American Civil War seldom dealt with in fiction for young people. The main characters are residents of Missouri, a border state. They are slave-holding secessionists but have friends and neighbors who are Union sympathizers. Some of these same neighbors also own slaves. Reeves, the narrator, is a bright 15 year old who records all that is happening around her. Her beloved father is killed in an early battle and her family's home is commandeered as a residence for a Union captain and his mean-spirited wife. Amid all of the turmoil, the household slaves remain stoic yet apparently loyal. The author does a good job of describing the complexities of the relationships among Union loyalists, secessionists, slaves, and slave owners who worked side by side even as the war raged around them. Reeves's sympathies lie clearly on the side of freeing their slaves. Still, she has no sympathy for the Jayhawkers, who are portrayed here as lawless ruffians. The characterizations are believable if a bit overdone at times. The captain's wife has no redeeming features; she serves the plot by giving readers a villainous character to despise. The slaves are not well developed, perhaps because they are seen always from Reeves's perspective. Still, this is a well-researched historical novel that should hold readers' attention. Pair it with Patricia Beatty's Jayhawker (Morrow, 1991), which is set in the same area but gives a sympathetic view of the Jayhawkers and a less friendly portrayal of the Confederates and slave owners.-Bruce Anne Shook, Mendenhall Middle School, Greensboro, NC
Kirkus Reviews
Readers accustomed to thinking of all wars in absolute terms will find a bracingly different perspective in Hill's Civil War novel of conflicting loyalties and fine lines. It seems as if all of Margaret Reeves O'Neill's life has been a border war. Her state, Missouri, is hotly contested during the Civil War. She is on the brink of womanhood, and torn between her father, who fights and dies for the Confederacy, and the Union soldier, Percival Wilder, who has won her affection. Her kind father, who had promised to free their slaves at his death, has amended his will, and his daughter, known as Reeves, feels betrayed. When the family is forced to board Union General Brown and his wife, a published poetess, Reeves is betrayed again; the odious Mrs. Brown steals Reeves's private writings and publishes them as her own. Some aspects of the story are unconvincing: Despite the brutal realities of the war, which Reeves witnesses, and which claim both her father and Percival, the day-to-day gentility of her home life is barely disturbed. Reeves's father has taught his slaves to read, and one of them has literary discussions with Reeves; such discussions were possible, of course, but Hill doesn't persuade readers that they were. Far from exhibiting the usual partisan hatred, women on both sides of the conflict get together to socialize and knit socks for the soldiers, most of whom are gallant gentlemen. Nevertheless, this is an engrossing novel, thoroughly researched, despite the modern sensibility that pervades it. (chronology, bibliography) (Fiction. 12-14)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.12(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.64(d)
Age Range:
10 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Yesterday I slipped over to see Mrs. Phelps, and that vile Federal officer who rides a black charger tipped his hat to me again, It is very provoking. I'm not interested in such foolishness.

-- The Diary of Margaret Reeves O'Neill, July 14, 1861

"It isn't lucky to talk about your own death." Mama's voice swept up the stairs like a stormy March wind. I set down my pen and looked over at Lucy, who was admiring herself in her new sprigged muslin for this afternoon's social.

"Daddy must be talking about his will again," I said.

Lucy met my gaze in the mirror, her eyes scared and big. "I think it's noble what Daddy's doing. I just wish he wouldn't talk about it so much."

I almost said everybody was talking about dying these days. But that wasn't so. Everybody was talking about fighting, not dying. Though as Daddy said, it amounted to the same thing.

"Folks are just caught up in all the glory of war right now," he'd said the night before at dinner with the Campbells. "But after the first battle comes, we'll see how the people of Missouri really feel about this war--after glory steals life from both sides."

"I won't hear any more of this talk, Gaylen." Now Mama'svoice was sharp, insistent-- "I don't care what your last will and testament says. Besides, our servants will stay on--no matter what happens in this war."

"You mean our slaves, my dear. They are not our servants."

"Whatever you call them," Mama replied firmly, "they're staying right here with us, where they belong."

The door to Daddy's library closed, and Mama's skirtsswooshed around the landing, up the stairs. She burst into our bedroom, her face flushed, ringlets of golden hair damp against her forehead.

"Put that diary away this instant, Margaret Reeves," sheordered. "You'll get ink all over your new gown." Then her voice softened, and she smiled. "Dear, you'll never get a beau if all the young men in Greene County think you're bookish."

I nodded obediently and put my diary away, but as sheturned toward Lucy, I slipped a small notebook and pencilinto the secret pocket I'd had Juneau sew into the side seamof my new watered silk.

Mama looked at Lucy's reflection and smiled. "My, that new muslin is nice, Lucinda. Before you know it, you'll be wearing real hoop skirts like Reeves."

Lucy's face was still pale, her eyes wide. "Why does Daddytalk so much about his will?"

Mama's voice went flinty cold. "Don't speak of suchthings, Lucinda. it isn't proper."

"He's going to volunteer with the governor's militia, isn'the?"

Though both Mama and Daddy had tried to shield Lucy from politics, she knew as well as anybody that Governor Jackson expected all loyal Missourians to arm themselves against President Lincoln's invading Federal army. The truth was there for the knowing like smoke in the wind.

"Lucy, your daddy is going to stay right here with us in Springfield. He has no plans to leave us all alone." Mama took a deep breath to regain what she called a lady's proper composure. Then she tried to smile. "Now, girls, it isn't your place to worry about politics. Calm yourselves and think pleasant, summertime thoughts." She whisked toward the doorway. "I'll send Juneau up for you in a few minutes. Reeves, be sure you wash the ink from your hands and rinse them in rosewater. Soft hands soften the heart of one's true love."

Lucy waited until Mama's footsteps reached the hall downstairs, then she quivered. "Do you think Daddy is really going to stay home with us?"

I turned away. Lucy was awfully young, just eleven years old. But Daddy had confided in me when I was younger, and sometimes I wondered if I knew more about him at fifteen than Mama did at thirty-two.

From the road out front came the hard, tromping sounds of men marching. Federal volunteers--hundreds of German immigrants from St. Louis, perfectly in step. I ran to the window and leaned out for a closer look. I never tired of watching them. They had run Governor Jackson out of the Capitol. Now they planned to run him out of Missouri, to free the whole state of Secessionists who supported President Davis's new Confederacy.

A Voice from the Border. Copyright © by Pamela Hill. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Pamela Smith Hill was born in Springfield, Missouri, where she developed her long-abiding interest in the Civil War. After receiving a master's degree in English literature from the University of South Dakota, she began a career in advertising and public relations that led to teaching posts at universities in Colorado and Oregon. Ms. Hill now lives in Portland, Oregon, with her family. She is also the author of Ghost Horses.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >