Ask a Bookseller: Middle grades novel examines how history is written, and who gets left out

A book cover of "The Civil War of Amos Abernathy"
"The Civil War of Amos Abernathy" by Michael Leali
Courtesy of HarperCollins

All this month, to celebrate the start of school, Ask a Bookseller will focus on great reads for kids and teens.

Sara Groves of Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine, recommends "The Civil War of Amos Abernathy," a middle grades novel by debut author Michael Leali.

Here's the story: 13-year-old Amos is a volunteer at a living history museum, but lately he's noticed that he and his friends aren't reflected in the 19th century life their sharing with others. Amos is gay, his friend Chloe is Black, and his crush, Ben, is questioning his identity.

Amos and his friends go looking for the stories of queer folks, Black people, and women who've been left out. He encounters the story of Albert D.J. Cashier of Illinois, who was born a woman, lived as a man, and fought in the Civil War. Amos begins writing letters to Albert as he tries to imagine himself in America's history, and he hatches a plan to share that story.

Not everyone in the community is supportive of this plan, and Groves says the culminating scene was inspiring and heartwarming in a way that "just sent fireworks" through her.

"The book does a fantastic job of encouraging kids to ask questions about the world and giving them language to think about who writes our histories and why," says Groves.

A note to parents: novels labeled as "middle grade" are generally written for readers ages 8-12. If you're unsure whether a novel is middle grade or young adult (YA), check the age of the protagonist. If she or he is 8 to 12 years old, even 13, then it's middle grade. There is no upper-age limit on who can read these great titles!

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