Monday, April 23, 2018

Book Review: 'The Last April' by Belinda Kroll

Ohio author Belinda Kroll devotes her writing talent to composing books of Victorian fiction for children and teens. Not only is she bringing well-sculpted and entertaining stories to life but she also is encouraging young minds to explore and appreciate history. Her books to date are CATCING THE ROSE, HAUNTING MISS TRENTWOOD and now THE LAST APRIL.

Belinda offers an Author’s Note at book’s end that enhances the story she relates: ‘The Last April is a novel set in 1865 Central Ohio. At its heart, this is a story of “what is happening to the nation?” versus “what is happening to me?” that most individuals face at some point in their lives. Abraham Lincoln’s assassination was the 1865 version of the September 11, 2011 tragedy. The more I learned about the nation’s reaction and panic in the days following Abraham Lincoln’s death, the more I wondered. Imagine 9/11 without social media, radio, or television. Where would you get your news? How would you know your sources were credible? Can you believe it took almost a week for the Midwest to catch up to and make sense of the news coming from the D.C. area? The newspapers are telling. One city claimed all three politicians died (false). Another city claimed two lived (true).’ She follows this with a very astute history lesson of the facts of 1865 accompanied by illustrations form the period. That sort of concern adds to the value of Belinda’s writing.

Belinda’s synopsis breathes life into the year 1865 – ‘Spontaneous, fifteen-year-old Gretchen vows to help heal the nation from the recently ended Civil War. On the morning of President Lincoln’s death, Gretchen finds an amnesiac Confederate in her garden and believes this is her chance for civic goodwill. But reconciliation is not as simple as Gretchen assumed. When her mother returns from the market with news that a Confederate murdered the president, Gretchen wonders if she caught the killer. Tensions between her aunt and mother rise as Gretchen nurses her Confederate prisoner, revealing secrets from their past that make Gretchen question everything she knows about loyalty, honor, and trust. The Last April is an entertaining, thoughtful novella of Ohio after the Civil War, meant to encourage readers to reflect on themes of fear and hope in uncertain political times.’

The manner in which Belinda writes deserves both admiration and applause. To open her story she writes the following – ‘Saturday, 15 April 1865 / Columbus, Ohio. Everyone else would remember that Saturday as the day President Lincoln died. Gretchen Miller would remember it as the day the ragged man collapsed at her feet. Gretchen was tugging at weeds and swatting at gnats when a thud made her whip around. The war was over, but Confederate supporters were everywhere. They lingered after General Lee’s surrender, and President Lincoln’s reconciliation speech, and in pro-Union Columbus. Gretchen swung from her hunched position to lean back on her barefoot heels. Her skirts puffed out with the movement. She slapped them down, annoyed. Sharp sunlight made it difficult to see. Gretchen thought she saw a collapsed man just yards from her hem. She adjusted her straw hat so it shaded her eyes. The man was sprawled across the oak tree roots. Gretchen could not tell his age or condition from where she crouched. His back was to her, his dark head resting on his outstretched arm. He was not moving. “May the angels have charge of me,” Gretchen whispered. She patted the revolver in her skirt pocket. His leg twitched. Gretchen’s heart leaped. That dark, matted hair gave her a turn. Maybe it was her brother Werner, returned from war at last. A hundred men from the Grove City area had answered President Lincoln’s call for soldiers. Everyone was afraid of the number that would return.’

Fine concept for a Young Adult and teen novel and one shared with adroit writing. There likely will be a strong following for her fine work. Grady Harp, April 18

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.