Thursday, February 23, 2012

Adventures in the American Revolution: Annie Henry and the Secret Mission

Ten-year-old Annie Henry struggles to know where she belongs. Too old to play in the nursery all day, but too young to help her sister manage the house, she finds herself wandering into mischief on a regular basis. Sometimes, her curiosity and wandering spirit are helpful. One time she noticed a fire in the wheat field and warned the men in time to save most of the harvest. Other times, however, her wandering and curiosity are exasperating, especially when her sister has to wash and mend her clothing, or her father catches her eavesdropping on his meetings.

In Susan Olasky's book, Annie Henry and the Secret Mission, Annie must learn to handle her sister's high expectations, her fears for her father's safety, and her worries about her mother. Annie is the daughter of Patrick Henry, a patriot who believes war with England may be necessary to preserve American freedom. Patrick Henry dotes on his daughter, but is away from home often, giving speeches and gathering support for the coming revolution. Annie's mother stays in bed, in a basement room, with nurses to care for her. When Annie does see her mother, she is wearing a straight-jacket and doesn't recognize Annie. Annie's sister can't understand why Annie has to cause trouble, instead of being calm and ladylike.

Annie loves to escape outside, where she enjoys nature and horse-back riding. However, she often returns home with ruined clothes, and even breaks her arm, while jumping her horse. Roaming outside does give her a chance to meet the neighbors, who are sympathetic to both the revolution and Annie's mother's plight. PLOT SPOILER AHEAD: On the eve of Annie being shipped off to her stay with her aunt and uncle, she stows away in the neighbor's wagon and heads to Richmond, to hear her father speak. Once there, she saves her father from arrest, and hears him proudly proclaim, "Give me liberty or give me death!"

What I Like: I like Annie's spirit and the authenticity of her dilemmas. She truly does want to be obedient and helpful, but has trouble taming her own spirit. Although loved by her father and sister, she is left to her own devices too often, and hasn't learned to control her impulses yet. Many ten-year-olds will relate to her.

I also like the gentle way Olasky deals with mental illness. Annie's mother is clearly mentally ill, and Annie questions why God allows the illness and doesn't heal her. Annie's father, and their neighbor, Mrs. Thacker, listen to Annie's questions and point her to the Bible, without giving pat answers. Mrs. Thacker tells Annie the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers, and says, "That's how God can take bad--even evil things--and bring good out of them." When Annie asks how God can make good come of her mother's situation, Mrs. Thacker honestly answers that she doesn't know, but reminds Annie, "There is a promise that God works things out for the good of those who love Him. But it isn't always clear to us when we are in the midst of trouble. Your mother loves the Lord. You must make sure you do, too."

What I Dislike: Although I identify with Annie's independent spirit, some parents may have trouble with her consistent disobedience. She disobeys often, and doesn't seem to learn why it would be better to obey. In fact, after she sneaks out and goes to Richmond, her father decides she doesn't need to go live with her aunt after all. I hope readers don't decide disobedience is worth the risk and may pay off in the end.

Overall Rating: Very good

Age Appeal: 8-12

Publisher Info: P and Publishing, 2011; ISBN: 978-1-59638-374-6; Paperback, 95 pages, $7.99

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Special Note: View our reviews of Susan Olasky's Young American Patriots series here.

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