Soldier’s Heart is a Civil War novel based on the real life of Charlie Goddard. We first meet Charlie as a fifteen year-old boy determined to lie about his age and enlist in the First Minnesota Regiment. He thinks the war will be an adventure and this might be his only chance to see a “shooting war”.
Unfortunately, by the time we reach chapter four, Charlie’s romantic image of war is shattered. The Battle of Bull Run introduces him to its true horrors. Bullets are flying, and the lives of men are snuffed out in gruesome acts of brutality. No fifteen year-old boy could have been prepared.
In fact, no fifteen year-old boy could have remained unscathed. The book leaves us with a portrait of Charlie as a man ravaged by war: physically and mentally. In today’s world, he would have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; during the Civil War, it was called Soldier’s Heart.
Soldier’s Heart is a fantastic read for reluctant readers. Not only is the book a mere 104 pages long, but the sentence structure is simple, and the vocabulary is accessible to most middle school students.
Charlie’s age also adds to the book’s appeal because most teenagers find it easy to connect to him. As a teacher, I have had very few students who didn’t like this book. In fact, I’ve had a few tell me that Soldier’s Heart is the only book they have ever actually read.
The strength of Soldier’s Heart lies in its ability to transport the reader to the Civil War. Chapter three ends with Charlie falling asleep, and chapter four opens with Charlie in the middle of the Battle of Bull Run. He is screaming, “Make it stop now!” All of his confusion and horror hits the reader in the face, much as it must have Charlie. For this reason alone, I think Soldier’s Heart is one of the best Civil War novels in existence.
My only concern with Soldier’s Heart is the level of graphic violence. Think the movie, The Patriot, for a good visual comparison. However, I am sure I would be criticizing this book if it didn’t contain such scenes. The graphic violence contained in novels about such events as the Civil War is not at all the same as that found in the slasher movies of today. One is history – a history we had better learn. The other is entertainment.
1. Ages 12 and up.
2. Though Soldier’s Heart is more likely to appeal to boys, don’t rule out the girls. Many of them like it too.
3. No better book for teaching the Civil War.
Parental Guide Available: Visit my website, plscholl-freelance.com, for a detailed listing of objectionable content. Please note: this is not intended to be a censoring guide, but a resource to help parents and educators be prepared.
Genre: Historical Fiction; Young Adult
Random House: 1998