Title: I Shall Be Near to You
Author: Erin Lindsay McCabe
Publication Date: 1-1-14
Genre: Adult, Historical Fiction (Civil War)
Rosetta doesn’t want her new husband Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they’ll be able to afford their own farm someday. Though she’s always worked by her father’s side as the son he never had, now that Rosetta is a wife she’s told her place is inside with the other women. But Rosetta decides her true place is with Jeremiah, no matter what that means, and to be with him she cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of his pants, and signs up as a Union soldier.
I’m practically shivering, this book was so good. Definitely my favorite book I’ve read in the past month. I’m a huge historical fiction fan, so when I saw this book being talked about, I said “reading schedule be damned” and checked it out from the library before there got to be too long of a wait. And it was so worth it.
I need to be clear here, though…even though this book is historical fiction and set during a war, and there’s lots of other themes at play, this book is, at its core, a romance. Some people might not be interested in that, so it’s important to note that right off the bat…but I loved it! The romance was so beautifully written and believable. The relationship between Rosetta and Jeremiah was so real and touching. Their relationship was sweet and heartbreaking…and this book made me cry.
Along with the romance, there was also the Civil War going on. I thought that this book had a really interesting portrayal of the war. Instead of focusing on the political issues behind the war or personal reasons why certain characters might’ve wanted to fight for their country, it was much more this atmosphere of naïve young men who just wanted to get out there and fight. They enlisted with their friends, looked at it is a fun time, and were more interested in getting their own guns than what the reasons behind the war were. This book had such a unique perspective in that regard. It was so hard to watch these men get so excited about a war that, as we all know, was horrible and bloody and catastrophic. And then to watch them slowly realize what they’ve really signed up for? It was rough. But it was so honest. So real.
I think that some readers might be disappointed by the lack of focus on women soldiers, though. This novel did an excellent job of portraying the day-to-day lifestyle of a woman soldier during the Civil War, and telling the story of Rosetta. But it didn’t really make a broad statement about women soldiers (although at certain points we do come across some other famous names in the book, which I thought was kind of cool). I didn’t mind this, though. I enjoyed that the book was more focused on Rosetta and her personal experience and relationship with Jeremiah, rather than it having some overall “message” or political point. But it’s something that you should probably know before you decide whether you want to read this book for yourself.
Ultimately, this book was incredible. I loved it so much. While it’s a little differently executed than some people might have expected, I think that it was written masterfully and is a wonderful piece of historical fiction — the best one I’ve read about the Civil War by far.