Soldier's Heart (Hardcover)
|Author: Gary Paulsen|
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|In June 1861, when the Civil War began, Charley Goddard left his farm and enlisted in the First Minnesota Volunteers. He was fifteen. He didn't rightly know what a "shooting war" meant, or what he was fighting for. All he knew was that he didn't want to miss out on a great adventure.|
The shooting war meant the horror of combat and the wild luck of survival. It meant knowing how it feels to cross a field toward the enemy, waiting for fire. Waiting for death. And Charley learned: This is how it's done.
When he entered the service he was a boy. When he came back he was different. He was only nineteen, but he was a man said to have "soldier's heart".
From the Publisher:
Eager to enlist, fifteen-year-old Charley has a change of heart after experiencing both the physical horrors and mental anguish of Civil War combat.
Fifteen-year-old Charley lies about his age so he can fight in the Civil War. As a Union soldier, Charley goes through training and four battles, including Gettysburg. After being wounded, Charley is sent home to recover, but finds he is also suffering from "Soldier's Heart"--the Civil War-era term for shell shock, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Addressing the most fundamental themes of life and death, the versatile Paulsen produces a searing antiwar story. He bases his protagonist, Charley Goddard, on an actual Civil War soldier, a 15-year-old from Minnesota who lied about his age and ended up participating in most of the war's major battles. At first Paulsen's Charley is fired up by patriotic slogans and his own na?ve excitement; in a rare intrusion into the narrative, the author makes it clear that ending slavery was not the impetus: "Never did they speak of slavery. Just about the wrongheadedness of the Southern `crackers' and how they had to teach Johnny Reb a lesson." But Charley's first battle Bull Run immediately disabuses him of his notions about honor and glory. A few sparely written passages describe the terror of the gunfire and the smoke from the cannons. Interwoven with these descriptions, a brilliant, fast-moving evocation of Charley's thoughts shows the boy's shocked realization of the price of war, his absolute certainty that he will die and his sudden understanding of the complex forces that prevent him from fleeing. Details from the historical record scorch the reader's memory: congressmen bring their families to picnic and watch the fighting that first day at Bull Run; soldiers pile the bodies of the dead into a five-foot-high wall to protect themselves from a winter wind. By the time Charley is finally struck down, at Gettysburg, he has seen it all: "At last he was right, at last he was done, at last he was dead." He is not in fact dead, but a victim of "soldier's heart," defined in an eloquent foreword as a contemporaneous term for what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder. Paulsen wages his own campaign for the audience's hearts and minds strategically and with great success. Elsewhere, as in The Rifle, he has told stories in service to a message; here the message follows from the story ineluctably. Charley comes across fully human, both his vulnerabilities and strengths becoming more pronounced as the novel progresses. Warfare, too, emerges complexly-while a lesser writer might attempt to teach readers to shun war by dint of the protagonist's profound disgust, Paulsen compounds the horrors of the battlefield by demonstrating how they trigger Charley's own bloodlust. Charley cannot recover from his years of war; in a smaller but more hopeful way, neither may the audience. Paulsen's storytelling is so psychologically true that readers will feel they have lived through Charley's experiences. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) 7/20/98 San Francisco Book Review
"...for mature young readers (or perhaps for those too addicted to action flicks), Paulsen has written a haunting book about the loss of life and the loss of heart in war." - Susan Faust 10/25/1998 School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Charley Goddard, 15, leaves his Minnesota farm to enlist in the Union army in 1861. An almost festive train ride to the South soon gives way to the harrowing realities of war. Paulsen pulls no punches, rendering the young man's experiences in matter-of-fact prose that accentuates the horror. The third-person narrative sticks to Charley's point of view, relating his immediate sensations and the simple ways he tries to come to terms with the bloodshed. The boy soon faces the inevitability of his awful situation but never loses his fear and confusion. After four major battles, he is badly wounded at Gettysburg. A final chapter shows him at 21, joyless, hopeless, and contemplating suicide. Paulsen's introduction explains that having a "soldier's heart" is the Civil War equivalent of shell shock and post-traumatic stress disorder. Charley's experiences show the devastating effect of war in a touchingly personal way. There are unsensationalized descriptions of violence and chaotic battle scenes, but the most powerful images come from particular details. After one conflict, Charley tearfully positions a dying boy's rifle so that he can kill himself. On another occasion, Charley helps a doctor keep the wounded warm by building a windbreak out of dead bodies. The young man's quiet despair at the end of the book makes it clear that nothing good has come out of Charley's war. The grim violence and bleak resolution may put off some readers, but the novel succeeds as a fiery indictment of war and as a memorable depiction of an individual.-Steven Engelfried, West Linn Public Library, OR 9/1/98 New York Times Book Review
"...a stark, utterly persuasive novel of combat life in the Civil War that may well challenge generations of middle-school readers..." - Henry Mayer 11/15/1998