This exciting and thoughtful novel of the Civil War uses as its framework an extraordinary historical coincidence: the first battle of the war and the signing of the peace agreement, both occurred on the property of the McLean family, who moved from their Manassas home to Appomattox in order to escape the fighting. Rinaldi, who has given young readers a window into the past in such acclaimed historical novels as Wolf by the Ears and The Second Bend in the River, centers her story around Wil McLean's stepdaughter, Oscie, a fiercely independent young woman who resists change even as her world changes around her. Defensive of the Southern values she's grown up with, Oscie is suspicious of her stepfather, whose "progressive" attitude toward slavery borders on abolitionist, but she loves and respects the Yankee governess he hires for her and almost in spite of herself, begins to accept some of her ideas.
Oscie grows up against a background of war, and her relationships with family, slaves, and suitors all reflect the changing times. The real battle, however, is within Oscie herself, who must make peace with her own conflicting ideas before she can make peace with her stepfather. It is this struggle that makes her such a compelling character for today's young adults. Rinaldi excels at portraying Oscie as the product of her culture, giving readers the opportunity to understand even those opinions they can by no means accept. Rich in historical detail, the novel brings to life debates on the John Brown massacre and Lincoln's election, as well as the general state of the Confederacy, but it makes its mark most significantly as a vivid exploration of one young woman's response to the effects of the Civil War on her life. An included bibliography and chronology will encourage students to delve further into this period of history.