This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.
In 1861, 9-year-old Jethro Creighton lives with his family on a southern Illinois farm. The Civil War is beginning, stirring heated discussions within homes across the nation. Two of Jethro’s older brothers, John and Tom, are anxious to fight for the Union army. Cousin Eb plans to join them.
After much contemplation, Jethro’s brother Bill is less certain about which side to choose. While Bill opposes slavery, he worries about what will become of the South if their way of life is suddenly ripped out from under them. In the end, and to the chagrin of his brothers and neighbors, Bill joins the Confederacy.
Although Jethro never sees battle, the climate of war forces him to grow up before his time. He and his 15-year-old sister, Jenny, take over much of the farm work after their father has a heart attack. Some local men, irate that Bill joined the Rebel Army, terrorize the family and burn the Creightons’ barn.
The Creightons are surprised when a man named Travis Burdow protects Jethro from an attack. Burdow’s son was responsible for the death of Jethro’s sister, Mary, years earlier. Jethro’s sister-in-law, Nancy, and her two boys come to stay at the Creighton farm while John is away because war-related violence intensifies.
Shad, who is Jethro’s teacher as well as Jenny’s sweetheart, decides he must join the Union Army as well. Pa won’t allow Jenny to marry him before he leaves because she is too young. Before leaving, Shad explains a great deal about the war, the opposing sides and the strongholds of each to Jethro.
Jethro continues to pore over any news he can find. A journalist in town named Ross Milton befriends him. Milton discusses the war with Jethro and helps him learn to speak better English.
The Creightons are always eager to receive news from their boys and try to keep track of where they may be during various battles. They’re devastated to learn of Tom’s death. Later in the war, they find out Shad is near death as well. Milton escorts Jenny by train to Washington, D.C., to sit at Shad’s bedside. Pa finally gives Shad permission to marry her.
One day as Jethro plows a field, he finds a skeletal Eb hiding in the brush nearby. Eb is a deserter from the Union Army; the battle had become too overwhelming for him. Jethro tells no one about his cousin’s reappearance but brings the young man food and blankets. He doesn’t know if he should report Eb to the authorities or even tell the family he’s hiding nearby.
Conflicted, Jethro writes a letter to Abraham Lincoln concerning the deserters who regret their decisions and have nowhere to go. Lincoln sends a gracious reply to Jethro, telling him all deserters will now be welcomed back to their posts without punishment for running away. This solidifies Jethro’s admiration for the president and his belief that Lincoln can solve the country’s problems.
While working at a prison for confederate POWs, John sees a very weak Bill. The two brothers reconcile, and Bill assures John he wasn’t part of the battle that killed their brother, Tom. None of the family hears from Bill again.
As the war nears its end, Milton warns Jethro that peace is not a perfect pearl. There will still be many consequences and struggles in the war’s aftermath. Jethro celebrates the war’s end, but his joy is short-lived when he learns Lincoln has been assassinated.
Jethro continues to work on the farm, though the devastating years of war have left him to ponder life’s harsh realities. His hope is renewed a bit when Shad and Jenny return. Shad says he’s going back to college, and he and Jenny are taking Jethro with them.
Jethro’s mother is skeptical of his learning when it doesn’t sound like it comes from Scripture. She prays aloud for the Lord to guide Lincoln’s soul, since he’s a man standing where two equally frightening roads diverge.
Jethro wonders why the Lord gives the Confederate Army better generals than the Union Army. In his letter to Jethro, Lincoln hopes God will bless the boy for his earnestness in trying to do what’s right. He also asks that God will guide them both as they try to make good choices in the days to come.
Jenny is happy to help out in Shad’s hospital since she’s so grateful to God that her husband is getting well.
Pa (Matt) and Ma (Ellen) are respected, hard-working farmers who are deeply concerned for their sons at war and at home. Many generals are criticized for their cowardice, ineffectiveness or penchant for drink. President Lincoln solidifies his status as Jethro’s hero when he sends the boy a personal, heartfelt letter and mercifully pardons Union deserters.
Congressmen and others drive out in carriages to watch war battles. Bodies, deaths and terrible conditions of war are mentioned several times, but nothing is described in graphic detail.
Alcohol: A young man who gets drunk at a party ends up killing Jethro’s sister, Mary.
Addiction: Jethro’s mother is nearly bedridden when she can’t have coffee. She’s ashamed of her dependence on the drink and tries, unsuccessfully, to wean herself off when it becomes expensive.
Slavery: Many support slavery during this period of history, believing it is necessary to sustain the economy of the South.
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