Thursday, August 5, 2010

Throwback Thursday: "Sarah Bishop" by Scott O'Dell

Time again for another Throwback Thursday, my own creation in which I look back at books I read when I was little. This week's selection:

Author: Scott O'Dell
Publisher: Scholastic, 1980
Where I got it: The first copy I got from when the site was new and exciting. The second copy I got from the Ithaca Friends of the Library Book Sale. (It was as many books as you could fit into a plastic shopping bag for a dollar. I saw it and had to, since I think it's out of print.)
Why I read it: I was a huge Scott O'Dell fan and read a lot of his books when I was younger.

Sarah Bishop is a 15-year-old girl caught in the middle of the Revolutionary War. Not for one side or the other, she is full of anger at the deaths she has had to endure and the war that caused them. Alone, she sets off as there is nothing left for her at her farm on Long Island. But she is soon accused of a crime she didn't commit and, on the run, decides to survive in the wilderness with nothing but her musket for company. Sarah decides that she will create her own fate.

This is a war story, a survival story and a coming-of-age story all rolled into one neat package by O'Dell. What I love most about his writing is that it's very blunt and to-the-point without sacrificing style, suspense or characterization. He manages to keep you riveted without long, unnecessary descriptions or flowery language. Simple sentences with complex themes, perfect for a younger reader.

Sarah is a strong heroine who knows her own mind and isn't afraid to protect herself, no matter who she's dealing with. She tends to distrust people, often a little too late, but manages to keep herself out of life-threatening danger (for the most part). I recognized a lot more in this reading than the first time I read it, mostly that Sarah is not as tough as she portrays herself to be. She is really very lonely, and frightened most of the time; she just hides it well. We only see this because she is telling us her story.

I really liked that there isn't a romance in this, though one could argue there is an interest later on in the book, but I wouldn't go that far myself. O'Dell excelled at writing strong female characters that don't depend on men to support and protect them, women who were fine on their own. A romance would have gotten in the way.

The thing I remembered the most before my rereading was how Sarah's father is a Tory. This had been completely new to me—I had always learned about the Revolutionary War from a fairly biased viewpoint. It was the first indication that Tories existed as good people and not as triators to the Revolution. But this book is not for any particular side in the war; in fact, it is largely anti-war. It reminds me a lot of My Brother Sam Is Dead by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier in that respect, which would be a good choice for a reader who liked the Revolutionary War aspect of this book.

This isn't my very favorite O'Dell (that one is reserved for Island of the Blue Dolphins of course, though I might have to do a Throwback Thursday for that one and see), but it is still exceptional in the historical fiction genre. It's based on a true story, as Sarah Bishop was a real girl, and O'Dell puts this in an author's note at the beginning, which wins him major points. I would have liked to know more about her actual life, but I guess that is what research is for!

Sorry this TT post is a little late, but hey! I made it on Thursday still! Hooray for me.

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