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Soldier’s Heart – by Gary Paulsen

March 31, 2010

Soldier's HeartI have always had a certain respect for Gary Paulsen, and have enjoyed several of his books. However, I found this one to be surprisingly lack-luster. It’s short, which makes it attractive to readers, but I think it could have been fleshed out a lot more. There were points at which it felt more like an outline than a full story and didn’t seem to be following the all-important “show, don’t tell” rule as much as it could have.

Soldier’s Heart is based on the true story of Charley Goddard, a boy from Minnesota who joins the army at the start of the American Civil War. He and all the rest of the soldiers are completely unprepared for the devastation that awaits them in the battlefields. At the start, it seems like an exciting adventure for them, but they quickly learn the true horror of war. Even those who survived the duration of the war were permanently changed and damaged by it.

I think there is value to this book, and it could easily be enjoyed by fans of non-fiction or war stories, particularly middle school boys. I just personally would have preferred more character depth. I didn’t feel like I got enough of a feel for Charley’s pre-war life to be able to appreciate the change when he left for war. I also didn’t feel like I knew the character very well in general, and certainly didn’t know any of the other characters. Very few of them are ever named and even those few are little more than shadows on a battlefield. After the first battle, Charley is devastated because of all the men who died, many of whom he knew and was friends with, but since I didn’t know a single one of them, I had trouble sharing his pain. I can see the usefulness of this book, but I think that it could have been better.

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