Johnny, a Rebel boy whose father died for the South, is captured by a runaway slave, a Yankee soldier. The boy's natural enmity grows into an unlikely bond as they struggle to survive the last days of the war together.
The Collier brothers ( My Brother Sam Is Dead ) here paint a strong, affecting picture of the Civil War era, of the grueling work and privations of the home front as well the chaos and carnage of the battlefield. When Pa is wounded in action in 1864 and comes home to die, he extracts a promise from Johnny, the book's 14-year-old narrator, to stay on their farm in Virginia and look after the family. But a few months after Pa's death, Johnny undertakes a dangerous mission to bring food into besieged Richmond--and maybe avenge his father's honor. Instead, he and the family's team of mules are captured by Blue Coats; even worse (to him), the soldiers are black, and the youth suffers the ignominy of taking orders from a former slave his own age, Cush Turner. At first Johnny takes advantage of his captor's kindliness, but ultimately he becomes friends with Cush and even saves his life. When the war ends, Cush and Johnny set off toward home together, the latter observing, ``For sure it is going to be a long time before kids of slaves and kids of slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood,'' but adding that staying friends is worth a try. The sensitive treatment of this unlikely relationship recalls Patricia Calvert's equally fine novel, Bigger . Ages 10-up. (Sept.)