Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sisters of Shiloh

Title:  Sisters of Shiloh
Author:  Kathy & Becky Hepinstall
Publication Information:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2015. 256 pages.
ISBN:  0544400003 / 978-0544400009

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Libby waited for her dead husband in the woods, her breath making clouds in the cold night air."

Favorite Quote:  "I'm not a coward. I'm not afraid of dying. I just think we have to take what's ours, because no one is going to give it to us. And if that makes me yellow, fine. I'll be yellow as a pound cake, yellow as lemonade. Yellow as a field of daisies. Let the cows graze on me, damn it. I don't care."

Josephine and Libby are the sisters of Shiloh, except that they are from Winchester not Shiloh, and at the moment they are not Josephine and Libby. They are Joseph and Thomas, two new volunteers in the Confederate Army.

Josephine is the older of the two. Libby is the prettier of the two, or at least that's what Josephine believes all her life. The sisters share the closest of bonds during their childhood until Arden and his family arrived in town. Josephine is thirteen and Libby, a year younger. Arden and Libby immediately form a bond, a bond that excludes Josephine.

Seven years later in 1862, Arden and Libby are married, and Josephine is alone. Arden is a soldier in the Confederate Army, and Libby has returned to her childhood home. The Civil War is at their doorstep. The battle of Antietam leaves Arden dead, and Libby distraught.

Seeking revenge, Libby disguises herself as a young man and joins Stonewall's Brigade, vowing to kill one Yankee for each year of Arden's short life. Josephine follows, vowing to keep Libby safe. In this quest, Josephine and Libby emerge in disguise as Joseph and Thomas (just as Constance emerges as Ash in Neverhome).

The basis of the book is the bond between the sisters. Yet, that is the least developed aspect of the book. The book does not really develop them as characters; nor does it provide enough of a back story. Josephine and Libby are inseparable until Arden comes around and essentially takes Libby away. Libby allows it to happen. Why? Josephine dislikes Arden, and Arden is unkind towards Josephine. Why?  Libby is described as fragile, Why? Josephine is so fiercely protective of Libby. Why? I would love to know why? Is it simply that a man comes between two sisters (or really a boy comes between two girls)? Without the answer to the "why," it is difficult to engage with the two sisters and difficult to feel their story.

The book moves quickly through the back story, not really explaining why, and gets to the story of the war. The bulk of book is the about horror of war - the survival through atrocious living conditions, the lack of food and supplies, the bloody battles, and the even more horrific aftermath of the battles. The descriptions in the book are lurid and gruesome. They make you cringe and are so vivid that you see the battle as if you stand on that battlefield.

However, elements of love and strong bonds also recur throughout the book. It exists in the bond between Josephine and Libby. It exists in Libby's love for Arden. It exists in the bond between brothers on the battlefield. It is shown in the gestures of caring between soldiers. It is present in the love stories of some of the supporting characters. It is present as one sister falls in love with another soldier. This theme brings beauty and love into this time of battles and death, creating an interesting counterpoint to the horrors of war.

Although the basis of the book is the relationship between two sisters, this is a book about war, in all of its vivid, grisly detail.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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