by Michelle Isenhoff
Copy provided by author for blog tour.
No compensation received for review.
All opinions expressed are solely my own.
After four uncertain years of war, twelve-year-old Grace Nickerson is desperate to return to a sense of normalcy. But when her father returns from the army, he sells the farm and drags the family off to a lumber camp in Michigan's northern wilderness. Grace is devastated; she's never been brave. When her tears and tantrums won't change Pa's mind, she stops speaking to him altogether.
Grace spends long hours working with her brother Sam and Ivan, the surly Russian cook, but at least in the kitchen she is safe from the lumberjacks. She's seen them from the window. They're rough, unkept, and terrifying. But slowly, with Sam's help, she comes to understand they're all missing home and recovering from loss, just like she is. Her fear begins to evaporate--until she learns one of them is trying to kill Pa.
Who is sabotaging the camp, and why? Will the winter in the woods bring the healing Grace needs? Or will it drive a wedge into her family?
Today I have a special guest post by Michelle Isenhoff in which she shares an exclusive interview between herself and twelve-year-old Sam Nickerson, Grace’s twin, who features in her brand new middle grade historical fiction novel, Beneath the Slashings.
Sam, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I confess, I’m very curious to hear your opinion of spending a winter in a lumber camp.
It was great! My Pa grew up in camps on the East Coast, so he used to tell me and Grace all about it when we were little. That was before he left for the army. His stories were so exciting. I used to pretend I was a lumberjack when I had to chop firewood for the stove, but I never thought I’d actually get to work in a camp. Then Pa came home from the war and announced we were moving to Manistee! I hired on as chore boy, just like Pa did when he was young.
Would you say your sister was excited to move?
Gracie? Naw, she wanted to stay at Aunt Sally and Uncle Peter’s house where we lived during the war. She was pretty mad at Pa. I’ve never seen her so angry. You know, she didn’t speak to him for months? I felt kind of bad for her, actually. I think she was lonely without any, you know, girls around to talk to. But I did get pretty irritated with her when I had to run messages between her and Pa because she just wouldn’t drop her grudge. Sisters.
What kind of chores did you have to do in camp?
I was the first one up every morning because I had to start the fires at 4:30. One in the cook stove and one in the bunkhouse where the men sleep. That wasn’t so hard. I always woke up early on the farm back home. Then I had to help Ivan—he’s the cook—with breakfast. Grace helped too. Then I’d wake up the men, serve breakfast, help clean up, chop firewood, fill the wood box, haul water, pack a lunch out to the men. You know, that sort of thing. There was always plenty to do. And with forty men in camp, we had to cook a LOT of food. Seems like we were always peeling potatoes. When the men came back to camp at night I was everyone’s errand boy, too.
Sounds very busy!
It was, but it was fun to be part of everything, too.
Were you aware of all the mysterious activity going on in camp?
Not at all. I was too busy. I didn’t know anything till it all broke open. Grace knew somehow, but she was too scared to say anything. She gets scared a lot. I’ve always had to sort of look out for her that way. She can’t really help it.
So after everything that happened, would you be willing to work in a lumber camp again next season?
You bet I would! Someday I want to be the foreman just like my Pa.
I loved this book. I loved the characters, the setting, and the plot. This is what historical fiction should be, realistic and compelling. Not only did I find the setting fascinating, but the descriptions were so vivid I could almost feel the cold. I am sincerely grateful that I did not grow up in a nineteenth-century lumber camp. I had great sympathy for Grace being the only female in the whole camp, especially as a 12-year-old. I also sympathized with her father, who was trying to do what he felt was right for his family while living with the aftereffects of the Civil War. War changes people, both those who fight and those who stay at home. Neither Grace nor her father were prepared for the changes in each other and the fact that their relationship could not be the same as before the war.
I also appreciated the way Grace's twin brother, Sam tried to help both Grace and their father come to grips with those changes. I think one of the things that I especially appreciated about this book was that not everything worked out hunky dory. Not all the problems were solved and there wasn't necessarily a 'happily ever after' ending, but the ending felt real as Grace and her family faced the future together. The secondary characters were great as well, Gideon the teamster (whom Grace has a hard time admitting she likes, Johansen, the blacksmith, and Ivan, the Russian cook, all add greatly to the story. I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction. I'm very much looking forward to reading the other books by Michelle Isenhoff.