Saturday, 4 August 2012

Johnny Tremain


A story filled with danger and excitement, Johnny Tremain tells of the turbulent, passionate times in Boston just before the Revolutionary War.  Johnny, a young apprentice silversmith, is caught up in dramatic involvement with James Otis, John Hancock, and John and Samuel Adams in the exciting currents and undercurrents that were to lead to the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Lexington--and finally, a touching resolution of Johnny's personal life. 

Johnny Tremain is historical fiction at its best, portraying Revolutionary Boston as a living drama, through the shrewd eyes of an observant boy. 

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars
Who Recommended it to Me: It was a summer reading book for school
Who I Would Recommend it To: historical fiction lovers as well as people who like the classics

My review:
This book was assigned to all rising 7th graders by the History Department.  As expected, it is a historical fiction novel. Since the synopsis doesn't fully cover what the book was completely about, I'll fill you in. (Spoiler alert. If you plan to read this book don't read the rest of the review.) Johnny Tremain is a 14-year-old boy growing up right before the Revolutionary War.  He's a young silversmith  apprentice working at the house of a family--the Laphams.  This family consists of four fatherless daughters: Madge, Dorcas, Priscilla (or Cilla), and Isannah, their mother, and their grandfather who dies later on in the book.  Johnny, though a servant, has a sort of power over everyone in the household.  No one can put their finger on how he does this, but he controls even the boys who are older than he is, such as the bitter, selfish Dove and the weak Dusty.  Johnny starts out an arrogant, self-centered boy who believes he can control others simply by giving them a cold stare.  When the wealthy John Hancock orders a complicated silver basin, Johnny and the Laphams anticipate the chance to show off Johnny's skill.  It ends badly, with him burning his hand on hot silver and damaging it for life. What was meant to be a silly prank ended up destroying his chances at being a silversmith. 

The most terrific thing about this book was the extreme character development throughout the book. The transitions were written beautifully and perfectly and they did not seem at all sudden or unnecessary. As Johnny went through changes in his life, he too changed and learned to mold himself to the changes.  What was amazing to learn about was that if you had a ruined hand like Johnny, there were so few options in the world for you.  You obviously couldn't be a silversmith.  Johnny spent hours pleading for employment, which usually ending in a half-apologetic, half-disgusted "no" from the person he was asking.  And trying to please those he cared about even ended badly--after purchasing limes for the spoiled Isannah, she squeals in glee but soon her squeals turn frightened--she is worried he will touch her with his damaged hand.  His pride falls many times and even though he dies a little inside after each setback, he plays through and that's what I like about him.  He learned a lot from his mistakes, but also from others' mistakes. 

This very well might be historical fiction designed for young readers at its peak.  Since it was published in 1943, it has continued to move readers powerfully and pass it on to generation after generation.  My mother, who is now in her early fifties, read this book in middle school as well, which would mean in the late sixties to early seventies.  Esther Forbes, the author, was not only a novelist but also a historian which leads me and many others to believe that every historical event in this book is very much correct.   I'm now very curious about this time period, so I'm looking forward to history class at school.  A very good read. 


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