From the author of Captain’s Command comes a tale of bravery from the American War for Independence.
I’m the man of the house now that my father has left to fight in the war. But I don’t feel like a man – I feel like a scared child. Why, even my sister Mary shows more courage and spirit in the face of danger than I do! But my father entrusted the safety of my family to me. As he commanded, I will stand tall in the face of the enemy.
But then, everything goes wrong. First comes the news that my father’s regiment has been destroyed – ripped to pieces even while it waved a flag of surrender. And now the enemy is coming here, to our own home, Kershaw House! I must protect my family, but is it wiser to bristle and fight, or bide my time and wait to strike a blow for the Patriot cause?
It doesn’t matter whether a war story is for children or adults – they always fall into two categories. One is adventurous, breathing of the nobility of sacrifice, bursting with life and bravery, and culminating with the success of a hair-raising mission. The other is tired of the squalor, disillusioned with the bloody deaths and torture – realizing the futility of destruction.
More often than not, children’s novels fall into the first category. However, there are some which fit into the second, and The Keeping Room is one of them. [Others are Soldier’s Heart, The Fighting Ground, How I Found the Strong, etc.] I started The Keeping Room thinking it would be a delightful romp around Philadelphia or some such city, full of encounters with famous Patriots and blood-raising victories against the snobby Brits. Instead, it tells of a little boy, Joey, whose father is one of the leading citizens of the town, and whose world is rocked to its very core when the British invade his city and establish themselves in the Kershaw home – even building gallows in the family garden upon which they punish offending patriot soldiers. Instead of sassing at blundering, incapable British officers, Joey finds an unlikely kindness in the British officer who controls their house and learns that it is indeed true that war has a way of pitting two good men against each other.
Joey definitely matures as a character. In the beginning he is scared – understandably so – and shrinks from the ugly realities of the war. But he tries to nerve himself – to steel himself with his father’s brave words and examples. When his father is captured and thrown in prison, Joey works to harden himself to the ugly sights and sounds of war. He chafes under the tyrannies of the British soldiers and comes to understand for himself the meaning and precious gift of liberty.
By the end of the story, Joey has learned many lessons – one of which being the importance of maintaining a good balance between respecting and appreciating the guidance of his parents while also not being dependent on them for protection and conviction. In a tragic twist, he also learns what horrible consequences can result from noble-sounding actions.
The Keeping Room wasn’t a satisfying story in the way we typically mean that adjective – Joey wins no glory, and accomplishes no heroic feat. But it is satisfying in the way that only stories which reflect grim reality can be. There is a certain amount of description regarding violent situations [war-time injuries, etc.]
The meanest of all soldiers taunts a Camden resident by making insinuating comments about the man’s sweetheart.
God’s name is used three times in very serious settings. Also, Joey’s father calls the British ‘d***able’ on page 77.
Conclusion. A good story, but not in the happy-romp sort of way. Good for very mature readers.
Review © 2014 Laura Verret