1931 Honor: Meggy MacIntosh

VERDICT: Trash

Laurinda’s Rating: 2.5/5

Meggy MacIntosh, one of the 1931 Newbery Honor titles, is a historical fiction novel featuring the title character. After the death of her father, a Scottish Highland lord, Meggy moves in with her relatives in Edinburgh. She always feels superfluous. Although she adores her slightly older and infinitely more glamorous cousin, Meggy doesn’t fit. In a bold move, Meggy decides to follow her heroine, Flora MacDonald, to America.

Although some ruckus ensues when Meggy fools her cousin’s beau Ewan into taking Meggy instead of Veronica, Meggy makes many friends on her sea voyage. When she lands in Wilmington, North Carolina, she quickly finds a place with a local merchant family. Meggy is discouraged that Flora MacDonald has moved to the backcountry, and has a long wait to find her.

The tensions that would eventually erupt into the American Revolution are already simmering when Meggy arrives. Years are rarely/never mentioned, but the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, mentioned close to the end of the book, took place in February 1776. Meggy herself is torn in loyalty. Her heroine, Flora MacDonald, is busy gathering an army of Scots to support the Crown; many of the Scots in North Carolina had survived the disastrous Battle of Culloden and vowed to be on the winning side of this conflict. However, as Meggy spends more time in America, she falls in love with the opportunities it represents.

Meggy splits her time between Wilmington and a plantation, where she is a companion to Miss Cameron and helps instruct the younger child in Latin. Miss Cameron sends Meggy to carry a travel authorization to a local Tory couple who are fleeing back to England. While there, Meggy buys the indenture of Tibbie, a strong Scottish girl Meggy met on the sea voyage, to prevent Tibbie from being sold to an awful man. She also gets a horse and a riding habit out of the deal. Eventually, David Malcolm, a cousin of the Wilmington family with whom Meggy mostly stayed, sends word that Flora’s son-in-law will be in Wilmington. Another harrowing journey ensues, with Meggy taking ill with a fever about when they reach Cross Creek. Meggy stays with the Malcolm family there, fitting in perfectly and feeling useful for one of the first times in her life. She does join Flora MacDonald for a time, but returns to the Malcolms when Mrs. Malcolm is injured. A visit from Ewan, who has fallen for Meggy and wants to take her back to Scotland where he has inherited the family fortune, crystallizes her attachment to America and to the Revolution. Both the MacDonalds and Malcolms march off to battle, on opposite sides; the Whigs win and none of the Malcolm clan is injured.

The Good: Meggy is a proactive heroine. She doesn’t wait for things to happen to her but makes opportunities for herself. Although she mostly works within her gender role (lots of the activities are nursing people, mending clothes for the men, supervising slaves, etc.), Meggy doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind and make her own decisions.

The Bad: This reads like a fairly standard “plucky girl” historical fiction book, though at least Meggy isn’t married off in the end. Every risky decision Meggy takes turns out perfectly for her, which…yeah. Unlikely.

The Ugly: Holy racism, Batman. Just about every derogatory or negative word that could be applied to the African and African-American slave population is. The language is enough to pop me out of the story. Besides words like the n word, darkie, kink-haired, etc., the descriptors are also incredibly negative. The slaves are lazy, stupid, can’t be left unsupervised, etc. I suspect this is an amalgamation of what attitudes actually were in the 1770’s and what they were when this was written in the 1930’s.

It’s not a terrible read – the pacing is pretty good and the character development adequate. I’d tentatively recommend it for about grades 4-6, to those who are interested in historical fiction set near the American Revolution. However, there are better titles available for general reading.

 

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