1944: Johnny Tremain

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 3/5

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes captures the spirit of the Revolutionary War era through the journey of a selfish boy who gains a new sense of patriotism and loyalty in the events leading up to the war.

I really enjoyed the first half of the book. It was exciting to read about a hero as flawed as Johnny – quick to anger, prideful and arrogant. Johnny’s struggles resulting from a crippled hand are a definite highlight in this book, as he must rise to the occasion and make do with what the world has given him. His spats with his childhood friends tend to bring out the angst in him, but at least the character had emotions and grew throughout the book, unlike previous characters in Newbery Medal books.

Johnny Tremain lost my interest, though, once the Revolutionary War fighting and espionage began. There was too much grandstanding, rousing speeches and reliance on famous historical characters that made this section feel overdone and cheesy. Johnny’s hero worship of Paul Revere and John Hancock was a bit too much to take, but his genuine friendship with Rab helped balance out his adoration of the others.

As a result of his character flaws, Johnny makes a lot of rash decisions that made me want to shake some sense into him. He is easily fooled and hoodwinked by a couple of characters, ending him being thrown in jail for a while. Thankfully, the character grows up a bit and is changed by his experience of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The novel ends on a somber note, despite the uplifting victory over the British, by showing the consequences of war and the casualties on both sides.

Overall, this book was a satisfying read even though I’m not a fan of historical fiction in this era. Headlined by a compelling protagonist, the book is a great way for children to immerse themselves in the Revolutionary War.

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