When I sit down to read a well-known classic, I feel like I've just been handed a gift. Many people I know have been raving about it, and I expect it to be amazing. I open the volume slowly, and when I take a deep breath of that delicious "new book smell" and turn to the first page of Chapter 1, I almost get a chill down my spine in anticipation. Most books that have been recommended to me by good friends turn out to be excellent in each and every way. But when I find an obscure, out-of-the-way book, a book that no one knows about (and the few who do dislike it)--and I love it--it's like discovering buried treasure in the most unexpected of places.
This book is pure treasure.
The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come
By John Fox, Jr.
*Summary taken from the back of the book
Chad Buford, an orphan from the Cumberland Mountains, is befriended by the aristocratic Maj. Calvin Buford of the Bluegrass, and begins a new life as "Chadwick Buford, Gentleman." But the Civil War intervenes, and Chad, like many other Kentuckians, faces a moral dilemma. Concluding that he is "first, last, and all time time, simply American," Chad casts his lot with the Union.
But The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come is more than the moving story of a Kentucky mountain boy who fights to save the Union. Even the Civil War itself is but an epic stage for the novel's main business--the testing and maturation of a hero as American as Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer.
I have to tell you that this book was actually hated by most of the people in my Lit/Comp class... which completely baffled me. Most complained that it was too long, or too detailed. These facts enhanced the story for me. I love historical fiction, as you well know, and details are important. Details help you SEE the characters and the scenery in your head; they set the stage for all that is to come. Characters come alive for me when I have plenty of details supplied; I drink them in eagerly. It's like a movie, only better because you can see the characters exactly as you want them, and no one delivers their lines poorly because they aren't acting: they're LIVING.
Ohh... how I love Chad. His determination and adult-like character from a young age really make his personality appeal to me. From the start of the book, he determines to "ack like a man," and continues to do so throughout the story, following not the crowd but his own moral conscience. He relies on God and what he thinks is His will for his life. That, my friends, is a character trait to be highly valued and one not common enough in our world.
Growing up, I always was taught (not by my parents, mind you--for some reason, we've never learned a whole lot of history on the War Between the States. We always were a Revolutionary War family, which I think is partly due to the fact that both Momma and Daddy are from Pennsylvania. :) that the Union was good, the Confederates were bad, and the War Between the States was all about slaves. The South was cruel and mean to their slaves, and the North was the kind friend who came in and rescued aforementioned abused slaves. The slaves hated their masters, but were forced into submission by angry overseers who had remarkable capability with a whip. No one in the North owned slaves or had anything to do with such a horrid practice, and they were all proud of their fighting boys who were off defeating those rascals who treated their fellow man like property. I think this worldview came partly from an improper understanding of the American Girl Addy books. :(
TLSoKC is a good book, in my mind, because it displays the War Between the States as it was: brother against brother. No one side was completely right in their beliefs. And yes, the North did own slaves! Even if they physically didn't have a slave on their land, they still profited from the selling and trading of slaves. And the South was not all bad, either. There were not very many plantation-owners in the South--it was just that the few who DID have plantations had very, very large ones and were extremely wealthy and powerful people. As I said before, there wasn't a "good" side and a "bad" side. Truly, there was nothing civil about the Civil War.
Chad and Melissa and Margaret... the ever-despised love triangle, hated by all because one person is always bound to be left out. :( I love Melissa. I love her boldness and her bravery, her strength and determination. And I absolutely love how she loves Chad with a pure and beautiful love (I think I beat the record for how many times you can use the word "love" in a sentence :). "And what of Margaret?" you ask. *sigh* She... I do not like. Her haughty manner and flirtatious habits do not improve her character in my eyes. Margaret certainly improves by the end of the book, and if it weren't for dear Melissa, I would find her bearable. But Chad loves Margaret, despite the fact that she does not love him... yet. Who will he choose: the mountain lass or the Southern belle? Read the book and find out. :)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
I recommend this book for ages 13+, because of some described violence in battle scenes.
A BIT O' READING FOR THE DAY
"And as for Melissa, while she ruled him like a queen and Chad paid sturdy and uncomplaining homage, she would have scratched out the eyes of one of her own brothers had he dared to lay a finger on the boy. For Chad had God's own gift--to win love from all but enemies and nothing but respect and fear from them." ~The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come, chapter IV