Each month I read a book from the list of Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Award winners. The award honors children’s books, written by American authors, that deal with the history of North or South America. This month I’m discussing the 1984 winner, The Fighting Ground (1984, Lippincott/Harper Collins) by Avi.
The Fighting Ground takes place in rural New Jersey during the Revolutionary War and begins with 13-year-old Jonathan helping his wounded, ex-soldier father on their farm. Jonathan longs to become a soldier and fight, and he defies his parents to join the local militia to stop the oncoming enemy Hessian soldiers. However, during the skirmish, Jonathan is terrified, runs away, and is captured by the Hessian soldiers. He learns his enemies are human, and sometimes his allies act like monsters.
Just like any war, motivation and pride can get in the way of principles. War brings out the ruthlessness of some and the compassion of others.
Specifically, for this story, it was interesting to note how long it took people to go from place to place during the 18th Century and how isolated people could be. There were small villages three or four miles from Jonathan’s home that he’d never visited.
Unlike during modern wars, Jonathan also met his enemy. However, he couldn’t understand the German the Hessians are speaking, and that added to his fear of them. The soldiers are also frightened because they get lost in “enemy territory,” and they don’t speak English. It showed the human side of the boy’s enemy and the reality of combatants who don’t speak each other’s language.
On Avi’s website, he wrote that that his idea for The Fighting Ground came from reading a historical marker in New Jersey about a fight between some Hessians and the militia and how insignificant it was in the grand scheme of the war. However, Avi thought that skirmish was significant for the people involved.
This was a very focused story. It starts about 10 a.m. one day and ends just over 24 hours later. It’s less than 160 pages long and doesn’t have chapters. In fact, it’s broken up into time segments of various lengths. Some are multiple pages, and some are only a paragraph or two. So, it’s an encouraging read for someone who might get bogged down in lots of descriptions, backstory, or large blocks of text.
Avi used third person, but I felt like I “was” Jonathan. In fact, I had to double-check because when I finished the book and was thinking about it, I thought it actually was in first person.
I also liked how Avi used the setting to affect and reflect the actions in the story and Jonathan’s state-of-mind. Before the skirmish, storm clouds gather, and then after the fight, rain, fog and mist cover the land, adding to and mirroring Jonathan’s confusion. In Avi’s blog, he mentions he doesn’t purposely add symbols. He just wants readers to enjoy reading his books and read into it what they see for themselves. However, I think he purposefully did use the weather, very effectively, to set the mood.
On a side note, Avi will be in Sioux Falls Sept. 26-28 for the South Dakota’s Festival of the Book. For more info, see http://www.sdbookfestival.com. Also, check out Avi’s website at http://www.avi-writer.com.
Join me June 24 for my next book in my Scott O’Dell Award Challenge, The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan, which earned the 2010 award.
Have you read The Fighting Ground? What lessons did it teach you?