I’d like to write historical fiction about specific events, such as Apollo 13, but I’ve never understood how to fictionalize these events. The closest I’ve gotten is Steve Sheinkin’s nonfiction with a strong narrative line. In this book, Avi follows the same narrative line that Sheinkin follows in The Notorious Benedict Arnold. However, Avi finds two places where the historical record is apparently not clear about why things happened as they did. Avi inserts his character, Sophia, into both places in an entirely believable way.
Since I have just mentioned The Notorious Benedict Arnold let me say that it can be paired very nicely with Sophia’s War. There is some discrepancy between the two on the historical details, but the details are small and don’t keep the books from going well together.
Sophia and her parents live on the island of Manhattan which, as the story begins in 1776, is occupied by British forces. Sophia and her parents are Patriots who never talk in public about being Patriots. Sophia’s brother has gone off to fight with the Patriots. Sophia and her parents are forced to take British officers into their home. The first officer who lives with them is John Andre. The 12-year-old Sophia develops a crush on Andre. The 12-year-old Sophia also finds it necessary to enter two of the many prisons in New York. The conditions are horrific. In 1780 Sophia is 15 and begins a job which puts her in a perfect position to try to thwart the plan John Andre and Benedict Arnold have developed, a plan for Arnold to hand over West Point to the British.
Towards the end of the book, Sophia has grave misgivings about stopping John Andre when it becomes clear that stopping him will mean his death. I find this a bit unbelievable. Sophia cares so deeply about American independence that she has put herself through a physically grueling journey to ensure that the plot against the Patriots is stopped. Would she really have misgivings because her actions might lead to Andre’s death?
The story is compelling, the second half even more so than the first half.
I suspect the details of the prisons in New York are too grim for third, fourth and fifth graders. Sophia’s War works beautifully in describing the conditions of the time, in creating a strong protagonist, and in telling the story of John Andre and Benedict Arnold.