When I was in elementary school I loved learning about the American War for Independence (courtesy of the PBS documentary “Liberty! The American Revolution.” We didn’t have cable when I was a kid).
Which led me to one of my all-time favorite novels, “My Brother Sam is Dead,” (MBSID for the sake of this post) by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier.
The only thing that could have been better about this book was the title.
Granted, it’s not as spoiler-alert-ish as, say, “Sam Dies at the End,” but it’s close enough.
The story of the Meeker family, torn apart during wartime due to conflicting loyalties, is told through the eyes of the younger son, Tim.
His older brother, Sam, joins the Continental army.
Their father, Eliphalet (nicknamed “Life,” now there’s a name!), remains loyal to England.
MBSID was the first book I ever read that featured profanity of any kind.
When I wrote a book report on it in 5th grade, I remember excitedly showing it to my classmates.
“Look, he says ‘son of a bitch’ here!”
“This is where she says ‘you little bastard!'”
My childhood wasn’t exactly HBO material, so profanity in a book? That was thrilling for me.
In addition to the salty language, MBSID features a not-exactly-The-Boxcar-Children level of violence, and I’m surprised my teacher allowed me to use it for my book report.
People get shot, one guy gets his head lopped off in battle, and of course Sam bites the dust at the end (hence the title).
It also features my favorite quote about war, spoken by Tim and Sam’s mother, Susannah:
“War turns men into beasts…it’s cheaper to shoot a boy than to feed him.”
Simple, yet poignant.
Soon after I read this book, The Patriot (the Mel Gibson movie, NOT the Steven Seagal one) came out, and I was bummed when my parents wouldn’t take me to see it.
“But guys,” I exclaimed, “I’ve read My Brother Sam is Dead, I’m not afraid of violence!”
Unfortunately my argument fell on deaf ears.
Anyway, if you’re looking for a good dose of historical fiction that isn’t War-and-Peace long or Johnny-Tremain cheeky, then you can’t do much better than MBSID.
If you’re looking for a good book to read period, then you can’t do much better than MBSID.