The King’s Broad Arrow
by Kathryn Goodwin Tone
Marron Press

"He let out a cry when he hit the water—too surprised by the impact and the ice-cold temperature to stifle it."

Tone's historical novel tells the story of young Sam Nevens during America's Revolutionary War. Sam and his best friend, Eamon, can't help but talk about the friction between the colonies and Britain. Sam's father owns a mill and has to leave the best trees picked out by British surveyors for the British Navy. Being caught cutting one down can have severe consequences. Although both boys are too young to join the militia, Eamon has a plan to go to a neighboring town, lie about his age, and join the fight. Sam doesn't believe he has the courage to be a soldier and isn't sure that fighting a power as strong as Britain is a good idea. However, Sam will be swept up in the revolution nonetheless, as he is caught trying to hide one of the trees his father cut down that was reserved for the British. He is captured and put on a prisoner ship. From this point, Sam begins to meet a rich selection of characters as he becomes more and more involved with the revolution and the reasons for which it is fought. Sam will interact with and help notables such as Thomas Paine and George Washington, as well as help print some of Paine's pamphlets from Ben Franklin's deserted house. Eventually, Sam even ends up fighting for the militia under the command of a young Alexander Hamilton.

Tone's novel is rich in historical detail. She does a great job of weaving into the narrative things such as the operation of a cannon, the workings of a printing press, and the making of ink. It is clear that she did her research, and, in return, the text is vivid and alive with the presence of the time period. Also, the historical figures come across as very real, and the interweaving of key events from the past—such as Paul Revere's ride and Washington's campaign during the winter of 1776—with Sam's personal narrative is handled deftly. Additionally, Tone gives her young readers a good, measured description of the chaos, fear, and excitement of battle without overwhelming them with too much carnage or ferocity.

The writing and editing are very polished in this novel, and the cover illustration is fantastic. Overall, the book has good pacing, particularly in the second half. Although this story could be read and enjoyed by readers of any age, the targeted young adult audience might find that Sam's time on the prison ship moves too slowly. There is a good deal of educational dialogue during this time, including topics such as stoicism and Paine's pamphlets, all of which are important to Sam's character's development. However, the targeted age group may become a bit mired in the rhetoric. Those with the patience to get through that section, though, will be rewarded with a more action-oriented narrative in the second half that could appeal to readers of the I Survived series or someone who enjoyed Gary Paulsen's classic survival tale, Hatchet. Considering the rich historical context Tone has built into this novel, it should appeal to a wide range of readers outside of its target audience as well as many within it.

A 2020 Eric Hoffer Book Award Category Finalist

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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