1942: The Matchlock Gun


Sally’s Rating: 2/5

Focusing on a pioneer family that faces a dangerous situation, The Matchlock Gun’s plot is as simple as they come: a boy shoots some Indians. The end.

The author sets up an atmosphere that highlights the dangers of pioneer life. The tension is drawn out as the father leaves with the militia, the mother waits outside the house, and Indians begin to burn the countryside, leaving only 10-year-old Edward and his little sister to save themselves. The suspense slowly builds as he waits for the Indians to show up and hopes that he can actually manage to shoot a gun that is way too big for him.

The problem is that the book is so short that there is no greater message or theme behind the family’s struggle. It simply provides a glimpse into the rugged life that comes with being an American in the war. It would have been interesting to see the after effects of the events, but all the tragedy is waved aside, and it actually ends on a comedic note – which makes the book suffer an odd tonal balance.

Racial stereotypes are back in full force at this book. The Indians were once again a nameless enemy that the pioneers must fight against. I’m getting tired of books that offer no shades of grey in character motivations. The good against evil fight is starting to be overdone, and after the last few reads, I’m ready for something with a bit more thought and weight behind it.

I have no idea why this book won the Newbery Medal. Though The Matchlock Gun is a suspenseful action-filled story, its only redeeming factor is that is only 50 pages long and has lots of illustrations.


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