Take one Civil War drama, add a heap of family conflict, and mix vigorously with an abundance of death and tension in the community. Bake for 4-5 years and there you have it: Irene Hunt's Across Five Aprils. This book has been making the rounds at library Circulation Desks since 1965, which is also when it picked up the only Newbery Honor given that year. In other words, it's got some serious staying power.
And get this: Across Five Aprils was Hunt's debut novel. Pretty sweet to get a Newbery Honor straight out the gate, right?
The story is focused on the Creighton family of southern Illinois, and particularly Jethro, the youngest son in the family. Throughout four years of fighting, we witness the hardships the family must endure, including (but not limited to) sons fighting on opposite sides of the Civil War, neighborhood bullies, and the entire farm workload falling on young Jethro's shoulders.
And that's just scratching the surface.
Stories told by her grandfather actually inspired Hunt to write Across Five Aprils, which is explicitly anti-war. Hunt has enthusiastic characters turn disillusioned (Tom and Eb) and an enamored soldier go from writing love letters to writing "I'm probably going to die" letters (Shad). In short, Hunt makes sure that absolutely nothing positive comes from the war. Not in 1861 and not to readers from 1965 onward.
Why does it matter that she wrote it in 1965? Oh, just because of a little ol' thing called the Vietnam War. Most wars are polarizing, but Vietnam is one in recent history that was especially complicated (thanks in part to a military draft and countless protests and riots). Hunt's message for her contemporaries is undeniable thanks to Across Five Aprils: war isn't worth it.
Technically speaking, Across Five Aprils is a work of fiction. It even says so in all that teeny, tiny fine print in the beginning of the book. Go on, check. We'll wait.
Now it's officially established that the events told throughout the book didn't actually happen, right? Well except that the whole Civil War part is 100% real, and there are definitely stories of brothers fighting each other on opposite sides. And Irene Hunt may also have said that the Creighton's tale was heavily influenced "by family letters and records and by the stories told by [her] grandfather" (Author's Note.1). In other words, Across Five Aprils is less absolute fiction and more fiction-ish.
What does that mean for you? More than you probably think. Since America's independence in 1776, the country has more often than not fought someone over something for some extended period of time. It's like the UFC all up in this country. And with recent generations experiencing the short list of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and wars with Afghanistan and Iraq, it's near impossible to find a family that hasn't been affected by any wars, either in this generation or the recent past.
So what if your family didn't agree about which side to fight on? It's not an unimaginable scenario. Jethro's favorite brother, who could do no wrong in his eyes, crosses over to fight for the Rebels, and as far as we know, Jeth never sees him again. In other words, it's pretty heavy stuff.
Since it doesn't seem like war is going away anytime soon, it's plausible that there will be at least a few more in your lifetime. So take a look around at your family. Would you be able to side with a cause instead of side with them? How would you survive the blow of one of them turning against you? The likelihood of you having to seriously answer any of those questions is (hopefully) slim to nil. But if Justin Bieber has taught us anything, it's to never say never.
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