I'm pretty sure I've written before that one of my all-time favorite books is Johnny Tremain. Often, for a lot of people, Johnny Tremain is grouped with My Brother Sam Is Dead as 'books for middle schoolers dealing with the American Revolution'.
And, despite my love for Johnny Tremain, I've just never made the time to read My Brother Sam Is Dead.
But we're considering possibly adding an alternative to Johnny Tremain for the students to read this year, so I gave My Brother Sam Is Dead a chance.
Warning - this review will contain spoilers…spoilers slightly more revealing than the spoiler that is the book's own title.
I'll say it up front - I didn't love My Brother Sam Is Dead. It's OK historical fiction. But I don't love it as a book for middle schoolers. It has a lot of curses, and it's an awfully realistic portrait of war. Which, I suppose, you either love for students at middle school age or you don't.
I didn't. (I had a similar reaction to Avi's The Fighting Ground. I'm just not sure it needs to be that violent. Maybe because I hold Johnny Tremain as the standard, and that book is not about the violence.)
Johnny Tremain wins out for me because it takes place in Boston, and I love that setting for American Revolution fiction.
My Brother Sam Is Dead takes place in Redding, Connecticut, which apparently was home to the British raid written about in the book, but it just doesn't excite me in the same way.
And while you spend the whole book waiting for the title sentence to become a reality, it just doesn't happen in the way you'd expect. It happens in such an unimpressive fashion that it makes you frustrated…or at least it frustrated me.
My Brother Sam Is Dead does a good job of capturing life during the war. It starts shortly after the Battles of Lexington and Concord and continues right through to the late 1770s, and then an epilogue takes you way beyond the end of the war. Johnny Tremain ends pretty much exactly where that book begins.
And that's probably why I like it better. For me, the more exciting history is the lead-up to the war, not the war itself. I like reading about certain aspects of the Revolution, but it's basically a lot of chasing and retreating and a whole lot of down time. The lead-up to the American Revolution is where the action is.
Bonus Information: Esther Forbes, the author who wrote Johnny Tremain, also wrote a book called Paul Revere and the World He Lived In. If you're interested in colonial Boston and life around the time of the war, know that this is a great read. It may be the best non-fiction book I've ever read.