James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier: My Brother Sam Is Dead (1974)
My Brother Sam is Dead is a historical children’s book set during the American Revolutionary War. I didn’t really want to read a children’s book but it seems there are a great deal of novels for children and young adults on this period and hardly any literary fiction at all (Please, correct me if I’m wrong). I thought I had found a few literary novels but every time I looked at a book more closely it turned out to be a novel on the Civil War.
The Colliers are brothers and have written quite a lot of books for children together. While Christopher does the research and writes down the structure of the books, James writes the novels.
It’s a well written book but very clearly for children and meant to teach history. It’s quite educational and very anti-war, something which, oddly enough, has been criticized. American patriots, to this day, seem to think that it’s ok to go to war as long as the goal is freedom. Freedom is certainly worth fighting for but, as the Colliers exemplify, it will always be better to see if there are no other options.
In order to show the different positions, they created a conflict inside of one family. The Meekers own a tavern in Redding, a Tory town. The older son, Sam, is about 16 and in college, the younger, Tim, is only 10 at the beginning of the novel. When the novel opens, Sam and his father get into a fight because Sam joins the Patriot troops and wants to fight the “lobsterbacks” – the English. Sam’s father is against this. He doesn’t see why they should fight the King and his troops. Young Timmy is somewhere in-between. He admires his brother but he also loves his father and respects his opinion.
The main reason for the outbreak of the war, as presented in the novel, is that the colonials feel it is unjust that they have to pay such high taxes to England. They want this to stop and become free.
After his dispute with his father, Sam runs away and joins the troops. The novel then focusses on the remaining Meekers and shows how difficult it was for families to survive and to stay out of the conflict. The war soon invades everything. They were attacked by Patriots, British troops got all their food. Staying neutral was suspicious.
I don’t want to tell too much of the story as it’s a short book and there are a few tragic events which shouldn’t be revealed here. Obviously the title contains a spoiler but it will still be surprising to find out how Sam died.
I liked reading this, it’s quite atmospherical and think captures well what it must have been like for families to live during that time. The Collier’s position, which becomes clear when you read the book and which is shown in some quite ironic moments, is that they are not sure whether the war was really needed. They seem to think that there might have been other solutions for the colony to become independent.
The book contains background information on the story and the characters, some events and people were real, some were not. It also contains an interview with one of the brothers. All this together makes this an interesting book, not a literary gem but nicely executed and informative. In some ways you could even call it a cautionary tale.
I’d like to end the review with a quote taken from the interview with Charles Collier.
I want a reader to understand the complicatedness of the Revolutionary War. Maybe there was as much bad as good that came of it, especially if one considers the Meekers. I think any book that deals honestly with war will be antiwar, because any book that glorifies war isn’t telling the truth.
The review is a contribution to Anna’s and Serena’s American Revolution Reading Challenge. Please visit their site for other reviews or if you’d like to join as well.