Gr 5-8-Valor, a young girl in the North Carolina Appalachians during the Civil War, struggles to live up to her name as the war drags on and her family's farm is raided by marauders. Unfortunately, the author attempts to pack too much into her story, hammering away at the meaning of courage and the strength of women in spite of their societal limitations. As a result, the plot is stiff and forced, and the characters are never fully developed. Houston has moments of eloquence when describing the beauty of the mountains or the aching pain of separation caused by war. Yet when she focuses back on Valor's story, her writing becomes melodramatic and repetitious. She conveys the girl's anger, fear, and frustration, but fails to provide a continuous flow in the plot for readers to understand the passage of time as the years unfold. In the opening chapters, Valor is 10, but is described as if she were much younger, and 5 years later, she seems unchanged in maturity. When the raiders return near the end of the war, brutalizing the family and taking their livestock, Valor disguises herself as a boy to avenge her family and retrieve their property. This crucial sequence of events falls flat with unbelievable turns. As with Houston's Littlejim (Philomel, 1990), set in the Appalachians of the early 1900s, Mountain Valor is based on a true story from the author's family history. Full of potential, it falls short in execution, lacking the engaging plot and steady tension of the earlier novel.-Sandy Kirkpatrick, Benicia Public Library, CA
While her father, brothers, and uncle are off fighting in the Civil War, 11-year-old Valor McAimee, her mother, and younger cousin Jed tend their North Carolina farm. Family members fighting on both sides, Valor's mother's illness, and the constant threat of either army ransacking the farm for food and supplies place the McAimees in difficult circumstances. Although Valor fears she will not be able to live up to her name, an old mountain woman assures her that "courage is being afraid, but doing a thing anyway--because it must be done." When the farm is robbed by vicious Yankee soldiers, Valor, masquerading as a boy, infiltrates the camp and manages to recapture her family's supplies. Based on the life of the author's relative Matilda Houston, the story is valuable for its perspective--showing a frontier settler whose major goal was survival rather than blind allegiance to either North or South. This will be popular with history buffs and adventure fans and useful for units on the Civil War. To be illustrated with black line drawings.