Book Review – Soldier Boy

TITLE: Soldier Boy
AUTHOR: Brian Burks
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHED: 1997

So, remember I said I went down the whole library? Well, that includes everything but picture books. I pulled this little children’s chapter book off the shelf pretty close to last (by this time I had 18 or so in my pile), and I had hopes for it.
It starts with Johnny “The Kid” McBane, a nobody without a family fighter in Chicago. His manager wants him to throw a fight, and he doesn’t, abandoning all the money and possessions he has to run away, hop a train, and then enlist in the cavalry. He ends up out west somewhere, part of Custer’s army.

So, the author’s note at the beginning of the book (which is the only thing in the entire 150 pages that puts the book in context of a year aside from the vague Custer reference), talks about how very little was written about under aged soldiers and he really wanted to show how amazing all of this was, etc.
Except that he didn’t show how amazing anything was.
I think the book suffered badly. The things that could have had amazing details didn’t, and the things that had details didn’t often need explained. And some of them were either wrong or extraordinary claims. “Thousands of dollars were bet on this bout…” Really? Thousands of dollars in post-reconstruction America? On a nobody kid who not a lot of people knew? (At the time of this writing, $5000 in 1876 is about $106,332 in today’s money)

I missed the richness that this story desperately needed. Even as a kid, I would have found this book boring as hell. Actually, as a kid, I probably would have given up on it and not kept reading.
The author also did a stupid nod to several pet peeves of mine. So, there was zero point to any of the stuff that Johnny said to another soldier they called The Scholar. (Pet peeve #1- this goes with the old adage of “if you aren’t’ going to shoot it, don’t show the gun”) There was definitely no point in sitting around discussing “But aren’t we being mean to Indians” because that wasn’t exactly the prevailing thought of the day back then. That was seriously only put there because a modern audience would have thought that when reading (pet peeve #2- not paying attention to the society of the time in historical fiction).

In the end, this book was a flop, and I’m amazed that I managed to see it through to the end.
It’s short, even by genre standards, and I think that it seriously could have used about 20% more words (mostly as description), and a bit of deleting when it came to Johnny, who hadn’t much opinion of anything, suddenly being upset about Indians.
Also, the story pretty much is a prologue that ends when you get to the meat of the story, and for that it really sucked. That battle could have been a really amazing chapter.
I’ll give it 2 out of 5. Read it when you’re bored, but don’t go out of your way to find it.

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