Eleven-year-old Katherine McConnell is so immersed in Civil War history that she often imagines herself a general, leading troops to battle. When Kat’s beautiful, impulsive mother wakes her early one morning in the summer of 1968 to tell her they will be taking a road trip from Georgia to Maine to find antiques for a shop she wants to open, Kat sees the opportunity for adventure and a respite from her parents’ troubled marriage. Armed with a road atlas and her most treasured history books, Kat cleverly charts a course that will take them to battlefields and historic sites and, for her mother’s sake she hopes, bring them home a success. But as the trip progresses, Kat’s experiences test her faith in her mother and her loyalty to the South, bringing her to a difficult new awareness of her family and the history she reveres.
And when their journey comes to an abrupt and devastating halt in Gettysburg, Kat must make an irrevocable choice about their ultimate destination. Deftly narrated with the beguiling honesty of a child’s perspective and set against the rich backdrop of the South during the 1960s, The Confederate General Rides North gracefully blends a complex mother-daughter relationship, the legacy of the Civil War, and the ache of growing up too soon.
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About the Author
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide
1. The Confederate General Rides North is a coming-of-age novel, about Katherine coping with difficult events and being forced to grow up quickly. Though the trip she and her mother take lasts just under a week, Kat changes her attitudes about a number of things; what are they?
2. The story of Katherine and her mother’s journey is told exclusively from Kat’s point of view. In what ways would the novel be different if the story had been told by Kat’s mother in first person narration? How would the novel be different if third person narration had been used and the thoughts of both Kat and her mother were revealed? What might have been lost in a different sort of narration?
3. Discuss how Katherine uses her love of Civil War history to cope with her personal difficulties. How does the author convey this in the italicized sections? How does the “voice” of the italicized (3rd person) sections differ from that of the primary 1st person narrative of the book? Does the voice of the “italicized” sections change over the course of the book?
4. The journey in the novel takes place early in the summer of 1968. In what ways and from whom does Kat learn about some of the important political events of 1968? How does she make sense of this information and what effect does it have on her as she travels with her mother? What memories or knowledge do you have about the political and cultural events in the U.S. in 1968?
5. What are the various civil wars in the novel? How is Kat involved in these “wars”? Are there places in the novel where Kat begins to make connections among some of these “wars”?
6. Discuss your own notions of being identified as southern or northern. How does Katherine grapple with this issue?
7. Several secondary characters, some more prominent than others, contribute to Katherine’s education and growth during the novel. Discuss one or two who struck you as the most important guides, either in a positive or negative manner.
8. Katherine’s grandparents and aunt give her a lot of love and attention. Other than your parents, did you have another family member or another adult who served as a guide or mentor to you when you were a child? Talk about the qualities of this person and one particular time you remember spending with them.
9. How does Kat describe her mother, Margaret McConnell? Do you think her description is accurate? How do you feel about Kat’s mother as the novel progresses? What about Kat’s father, Bill McConnell?
10. Discuss the relationship that Kat has with her mother and father. Which scenes in the novel reveal best how Kat feels about each parent and the legacies she has “inherited” from each?
11. Katherine loves books and they are important talismans for her above and beyond their content. What favorite books do you remember from your childhood? Were they on a particular subject, as Kat’s are? Discuss why they were so important to you.
12. Discuss the significance of Gettysburg as the last battlefield of the book. Why does Gettysburg hold such significance for Kat before she and her mother even get there? How does the place of Gettysburg contribute to Kat’s development?
13. What is Kat’s understanding of violence and war at the beginning of the trip? How has it changed by the end of the trip? Discuss the reasons for the change.
14. Were you surprised by Kat’s actions at the end of the novel? In what way? What do you imagine happens after the novel ends?
15. Many people have visited Civil War battlefields (or other battlefields or historic sites) on family vacations. If you’ve been on such a trip, talk about your experience. How did you feel; what did you learn; did it change you in any way? What sort of tour did you go on—was there a museum—a living history presentation—a bus tour—car audio tour? Who in the family planned the trip and who drove?