As historical fiction goes, few do it better than Avi, winner of the Newbery Medal for Crispin: The Cross of Lead. And as a topic for his latest novel, he couldn’t have chosen a more engrossing one than the American Revolution. Avi uses a young female protagonist, who narrates Sophia’s War: A Tale of the Revolution in first person, to tell the thrilling story.
The story opens in 1776 in New York City, where 12-year-old Sophia Calderwood lives with her mother and father. Her older brother, William—a patriot and proud proponent of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense—has gone missing. When Sophia witnesses the hanging of Nathan Hale, she worries even more about the whereabouts of her brother and about the impending outcome of the war.
Fiercely (yet initially secretly) a supporter of the American cause, Sophia sets off to lend her support to the patriots—serving as a spy while she works as a housemaid for a commander of the British forces. With her life and her family’s at risk, she is determined to do anything possible to foil a treasonous plot that involves Benedict Arnold.
Extremely thorough and accurate research (as detailed in an author’s note) teams with creative license to weave a compelling tale. While many of the characters and situations described in the book are real, Avi invented Sophia as a bridge to tie all the elements together.
Today’s young readers may react with a bit of disbelief to Sophia’s bold spirit amid grueling and dangerous circumstances, like walking 50 miles through rough terrain or visiting an abominable British prison. Through it all, Sophia grows up, learning perhaps more than she intended along the way. Her riveting story also serves as an ideal introduction to some turning-point moments in the nation’s founding.