Buffalo Soldier

What a book! I chose this from the Carnegie Prize shortlist, as the title attracted me and I love history. A dozen year 9s are reading it this week. It’s a bit gritty, to say the least, with every kind of inhuman atrocity witnessed in the plain narrative of a black girl during and after the Civil War. Charlotte, the narrator, is freed from slavery, but the prejudice and rough justice that is the aftermath of this bloody conflict forces her to fight for her own survival by dressing as a soldier and joining the US cavalry in its first  black company. (And it’s inspired by a true story where this happened!)

About halfway through, I was becoming disappointed in the lack of typical characterisation and in-depth relationships – it seemed to be ‘a series of really unfortunate events’ – things just got worse and worse for the protagonist. The narrative voice is authentic, but the lack of choice given to the main character is frustrating and painful. But the last 20 pages are magnificent. What a powerful book! What a story! It’s hard to bear at times, but it comes on really strong at the end, and it has to be one of the best Young Adult books I have ever read, but be warned, with burnings, beheadings and rape, it’s not for the faint-hearted. Be ready to re-live an experience you would never want to suffer!

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