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Review: The Last Full Measure, Ann Rinaldi

Tacy’s life in Gettysburg is thrown into turmoil by the Civil War.  Two of her brothers are off fighting and her father, a doctor, is doing all he can to save soldiers on both sides; at home with her is her brother David, crippled just enough to be ineligible for war service, and her mother.  David loves Tacy but is bitter about his inability to fight, meaning that tensions often run high in the family home.  Things only get worse when the Confederate army invades the town and Tacy has to hide her free black friend Marvelous and her family from the soldiers.  The Battle of Gettysburg, when it occurs, shocks the town and changes Tacy’s life forever.

I’d only ever read one book by Ann Rinaldi before, when I was much younger, but I knew she wrote great historical fiction for young adults.  I’m not normally a fan of Civil War fiction, but I knew I liked In My Father’s House, so I thought I’d give this new book a try, which turned out to be a great decision.  The Last Full Measure is not a story about a girl who does extraordinary things for the war effort; instead it’s about a girl who just tries to get by, who is affected by the war just as deeply as everyone else, who reacts in perfect human ways to circumstances which could tear some of us apart.

In Tacy, Rinaldi creates a wonderful, real heroine who is forced to question the world around her due to a war.  She gets confused and she struggles, but her core values are the same as all of ours.  She adores her family and her friends, and even fighting with one of these cherished few makes her desperately unhappy.  Her joy when her brothers arrive safely for a visit is transformed into the reader’s joy as we can’t help but feel for her and her pain.  She doesn’t go onto the battlefield and save lives, but she does what little she can to protect those who she loves, which is more than others have done in the past.  In fact, I think that was what I liked most about it, that Tacy was very ordinary but strong-willed and loving.  I could imagine myself in her shoes, both in good and bad ways.  This book is written for a younger audience and I do think that Tacy matches that description.  In some ways, she is wise, but in others, she is still very much a young girl with a young girl’s thoughts.

I also really liked that, in her mission for the book, Rinaldi tried to aim for something that wasn’t really covered in most fiction books about the Civil War; namely, that Gettysburg had a reasonable population of free blacks and what happened when Confederate soldiers invaded.  By making it personal and giving Tacy a close friend whose family was facing these very challenges, Rinaldi made the struggle personal and both educated me about the situation in Gettysburg and moved me as Tacy tried desperately to save her friend from slavery.

The Last Full Measure is an excellent young adult book about the Civil War.  It deals with important complex historical situations but its best feature is its heroine, because Tacy is a believable, fully fleshed out young girl that many readers will find easy to relate to.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free for review from Netgalley.

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