I can’t understand why you substituted Tim’s Excellent Good Fortune for Tim Curious. I truly feel that Tim Curious is the best selection for the Tim Euston series. It is where we first get to know Tim, his sister Sadie and his friend Dan. It’s were we learn most about their past. Shouldn’t the “best” be the novel everyone should start with? But aside from that, it is still, in my opinion, the best story. It conveys so well the dismal state of living in a “neutral zone” that is neither fully English territory nor American territory. It conveys so well the unending stress of being within a state of war that has lasted longer than anyone expected and has no end in sight. It conveys so well the condition of a boy who wants to be part of the struggle for independence but has not been given an opportunity to join up and fight. It tells so well Sadie’s frustration of wanting to be part of the struggle but not wanting to see her brother jailed or killed as part of his effort. Tim’s Excellent Good Fortune has more action, and it’s more of a standard who-done-it murder mystery, but doesn’t have the sense of endless dread that made the first in the series so moving. All books in the series teach a lot of history, but it is in Tim Curious that I felt had learned something about the emotional history of the revolution.
Lori Marshal, Ohio
The history of the American Revolution is of interest for us, not as the mere enumeration of facts and figures, but as the description of great moral and mental developments. Historical fiction set in this turbulent era can offer us an analysis of human character within specific settings, allowing us to re-experience the human and social motives that led people to feel, think, and act as they had. It can follow the path of political and religious change. Novels can develop an awareness that historical events have a deep and lasting impact. They give the reader insights into the minds of the people, both great and ordinary, and inspire is us an empathy for them. They create a live connection between now and then, and allow us to explore the ways that our nation and our national identity are constructed. Novels of the Revolution can offer female and minority readers a chance to imagine a different and more inclusive version of history. It can open our minds to the many events that have been marginalised by professional historians, and present a dissident view of the Revolution. A novel can allow us to consider social change and to see how things can happen and, with hindsight, we try to reflect upon contemporary events, and can be used by teachers in classes to bring life to the dry pages of history texts. A novel can express our national character and our collective self-perception. It can allow us to understand extreme behaviour, and it can explore different ways of understanding and living with horrific events in the past. Historical fiction helps us retain the past, and this is why the fiction of the American Revolution is so important for Americans and for the whole world.
J. Bennett, Rapid City
Historical fiction is one of those areas where an author can change events to match an ideological agenda. Events can be altered, and characters can provide testimony in ways that paint their side in a good or bad light depending on the author's personal opinion. I feel I always have to take them with a grain of salt. Having said that, Thorleifson’s "Tim Curious” is an absolutely fabulous read, one I could not put down. It tells of a reckless criminal charge, an unsolved murder, a smuggling ring and a treasonous plot, in a region occupied by British troops during the American Revolution Tim, his sister, and friends help to identify the killer. What transpires is a test of wills. They wonder whether they should keep trying, or should they run away as far as they can. It is a witty and wonderful book. The characters are well developed, the historical detail is accurate, and the writing is vivid. I highly recommend “Tim Curious” to anyone into events of the Revolutionary War.
Madison Powell, Port Chester, NY
I feel I have to speak out regarding the letter that attacks Johnny One-Eye: A Tale of the American Revolution. To blame the author for a desire to pander to the reader’s baser instincts, and to call for an eradication of what the uneducated would call “perversion” is unacceptable in a caring and compassionate society. When you emasculate the "in your face" writing that society needs to experience then what will deter the proliferation of Trump era preaching aimed at any and al forms of free expression. This is, arguably, the worst thing that has happened to American culture in recent years. A culture that glorifies the intolerant, over being a compassionate contributor to the community, pretty much says it all. We owe a debt of gratitude to Jerome Charyn, and all of those far-sighted writers of enlightened fiction who are leaving a legacy that the readers of historical novels can rejoice in.
Joshua Long, Garland, TX
Thank you for inspiring me to read a few of your ten best, along with a couple of your runners up. I might end up reading them all. I’d lost interest in our history, and I’m glad I got it back. Those who fought and died for our freedoms, and those who did without on the home front, did so with the understanding that their efforts would “drain the swamp”. The new nation would protect their liberties, put forth equality, bring back justice to the courts, and force the elitists out. No wonder people laid down their lives for such ideals as these. Today we are being tested again. We know that our fundamental structure is under stress from inside and from out. Will America be resilient enough to survive?
Joe Cox 12, Fremont, CA
Thank you for such a nice set of reviews. I was fired up to read all ten and, except for Johnny One-Eye, it’s been wonderful month. The fourth of July will be so much more meaningful this year now that I know what it’s really all about.
I had read Rabble in Arms years ago, and it was still a pleasure to revisit it. The authenticity of the New England was so brought to life. Drums Along the Mohawk is another I’d read as a kid, and it almost surprised me. The respect the author shows for the Native Americans almost qualifies for twenty-first century political correctness. Rise to Rebellion takes you right into the homes and thoughts of the greatest of the founding fathers. This one will teach you the most history. April Morning is as short as it is sweet. How could a communist have written such a patriotic novel? I guess they aren’t all bad. Johnny Tremaine was actually better than I remember it. It’s a real psychological thriller and Johnny is no sweetheart. My Brother Sam is Dead is a tender poignant story that’s too sad to keep reading but too good to put down. Tim Curious, I loved. Poor Tim is such an idealist, his sister is such a bossy-pants and their friend Dan is such a smart-Alec. These are real teenagers, unlike the adults in adolescent clothing in other coming of age novels. The Bastard is a fast read. With such a title I would have thought it was a dirty book, but it’s really a Harleqin Romance with added history. I passed it along to my mum. As the saying goes, Johnny One-Eye will leave you wanting to take a shower. Cast Two Shadows is a lovely novel but it almost makes you think too much. The characters face more moral and philosophical dilemmas than anybody should have to face. But don’t let me discourage you. It’s a great book. This is a top ten list that is worth reading ten times.
Carol Goodman, East Haven, CT
I am disappointed to see Johnny One-Eye: A Tale of the American Revolution included in a top ten list. I love many other picaresque novels and the idea of one set in midst the American Revolution had my hopes up. The story revolves around the teenage boy, who was raised in a New York whorehouse. He lost an eye in Benedict Arnold's campaign to take Quebec. Over the eight years from 1776-1783, the reader follows Johnny in his life as a semi-secret double agent with the American and British forces. This is not, however, a novel of intrigue or espionage. Johnny is used and abused by everyone and it is never quite clear just what is going on or who is working behind the scenes. Historical personalities make frequent appearances: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, Alexander Hamilton, British General William Howe and his brother, Admiral Richard. But they turn out to be as perverse as any of the spies and prostitutes. Some may claim that Charyn has taken dry figures from history and breathed life into them but the historical record does not support his assumptions.
Jerome Charyn’s pseudointellectual writing style may be enough for some readers, but it will not be enough for anyone inspired by plot, character or theme. The plot is truly aimless. The predicaments that Johnny finds himself in progress so slowly that that any overarching plot is lost. One attempt at plot has Johnny being the possibly bastard son of George Washington and a prostitute. Another has him in love with another prostitute named Clara. These are, however, so belabored over the length of the book that by the time they are resolved it is hard for the reader to care.
The characters were not someone you might learn from, or worry about, or cheer on. Hunger, anger, cruelty, envy and horniness are their only emotions. Clara keeps flirting with Johnny but refuses to follow through. Does she know that Johnny loves her and does she only mean to torment him? Johnny's perverse longing for her just irritated me. Every female character is either an actual prostitute or an unofficial one. Is this what Charyn thinks of all women?
Charyn tries to be bawdy or naughty but he fails because there is no excessive moral rigor for these delights to react against. He has created a world where cruelty and self-hatred is normal. Sex becomes boring rather than titillating.
Harold Oliver, NY, NY
I applaud the reviewers in the writing of this list. I can at last find excellent novels on the American Revolution with reviews that go beyond a list of “I liked” and “I didn’t like.” I cannot say the same about the offensive letter regarding “Tim Curious” that begins with “I am sincerely disappointed with”. Isn’t it time novels set in the Revolution had a little realism? Did everybody in the Thirteen Colonies spend seven years on the brink of tears? Do teenage boys ever undergo a major development in the space of a few weeks? Did the mood of the people never rise out of despair? Is there only one acceptable theme for the doomy-gloomy revolution? I thought Thorleifson did a wonderful job of evoking the sights and sounds of Colonial America. The patterns of speech, which is retained in what linguists, call the Standard American accent found in western New England through to parts of Ohio and Wisconsin is wonderfully recreated. The faux-woodcut chapter illustrations immerse the reader, especially the young reader, in a way that wordy descriptions cannot. I found the placing if scholarly information in James Michener style indented sections to be quite appropriate. The information was fascinating and it could not be worked into the text without seeming out of place. Tim Euston’s America is the world described by historians who have read the diaries, letters and town records. It is the life led by real people and sadly is a world rarely touched on by novelists. I have nothing but praise for the selection of Tim Curious for a ten best, and I plan on reading the whole series.
Oscar Hample, Modesto CA
Kudos for Roddy Thorleifson and Tim Curious. It is 1777 and a bookish carpenter’s apprentice and his headstrong younger sister try to solve a murder. They find themselves confronting Toryism, organised crime and spies in the British controlled Neutral Ground, north of occupied New York City. Suspicion, fear and conflict rage through every chapter. Thorleifson’s background in the anti-American, ultra-liberal milieu of Western Canada has allowed him a fresh look at the culture of the American Revolution. He is able to give the pro-Patriot major characters the zealotry of the newly converted in a manner that stands in contrast with other novels set in this era. Together with his deep knowledge of the everyday life of working people in the 18th century, this perspective gives the novel a vivid authenticity that forces the reader to question long-held assumptions. His refusal to ignore realities like primitive healthcare, and the oppression of women, children and the poor, means he can paint a vivid picture of an era more distant that can be easily imagined. This newly published novel is sure to be a favorite, not only for young readers with inquiring minds, but for school librarians and history teachers. At last a historical novel with realistic chapter illustrations that show the action, and not just wagon wheels and kettles.
Sylvia Demaris Clifton, NJ
I am sincerely disappointed with one of your selections for the “10 Best.” The murder mystery titled “Tim Curious” is aptly named, since its inclusion with far superior novels cannot help but peek the curiosity of many. It is sorely lacking in the three factors that are fundamental to the building of an excellent novel: character development, mood, and thematic development.
In a historical novel the protagonist should possess the qualities that relate him to the spirit of the times in which he lives. Tim Euston, aptly called “Tim Useless” by his fellow workers, starts the book as a woodcutter, and ends it as a boy well suited to life as a manual laborer. What connects him to past, present and future? How are his qualities, emotions and aspirations relatable to a common human experience? Tim dreams of demonstrating valor in battle, but at no point comprehends the vanity if this goal. The author has 17-year-old Tim at times debating ideology with his younger sister with the insight of a graduate student, and at other times making blundering errors. A better moniker would perhaps be “Tim Unbelievable”.
What words could I use do describe the mood of “Tim Curious”? Nonexistent comes to mind. The characters are in the midst of a bloody war and an unjust occupation. Description, dialogue and narration should capture the poignance of so dreadful a condition. I found little suffering and less regret. Only rarely was I called upon to feel pity and this was quickly dispelled by smart-Alec humor.
A novel set in the Revolution, with a plot that includes men whose only goal is profiteering on the suffering of others is an apt place for lesson on the cruelty and futility of war. This would be the proper theme for a murder mystery set upon a watershed in the history of democracy. Where does Tim Curious teach the lessons that young readers should learn? In war that ‘glory’ is ephemeral while the death is eternal, that the risk of suffering outweighs the hope of profit that solace can be found in neither the regret of the losers nor the pride of the winners.
It is in these three failures, in character development, in mood, and in theme, that “Tim Curious” fails ignominiously. What is worse is the apparent deliberation of the author. With realism, with humor, and with suspense it is a calculated disaster. This is, after all, the American Revolution we are dealing with, and a book of this ilk should only be enumerated in a “10 Worst” list.
Allan Johnson, Jefferson City, MO
“Tim Curious” seems to me to be better written than most that are set in this the War for Independence. It’s a pleasure to read, though I must admit that I found middle of the book to be a bit slow, It speeded right up towards the end. I also like the way he gets into the action before providing background. Author, Thorleifson, gives the reader historical background without getting too in-depth. He presents an interesting perspective on loyalist and rebel views of the war. Not everything is resolved and the story ends as if there is going to be a sequel. Then you find the first four chapters of the sequel right there! I definitely recommend Tim Curious.
Doris Strang, Annandale, VA
I would lie to add my recommendation for Tim Curious by Roddy Thorleifson. In language reminiscent of Mark Twain, the story of a poor young carpenter’s apprentice brings the era to life for me like few other novels. I saw the sights (made easier by his wonderful illustrations), I smelled the smells and I heard the sounds. I was scared when Tim and his younger sister, Sadie, were scared and I was angry when they were angry. And I learned things. I never knew a person would have been sedated with alcohol and opium when he had a tooth pulled. But when it’s pointed out, I said “Of course he would!” And of course the boys all slept spoon-style in one bed and the girls in another. They were one room houses with no furnace. And of course most children went to work as children, with little of no education. Of course most people would have never learned how to to ride a horse. Of course the towns were full of wheelbarrows and pushcarts. But this book isn’t just an excellent social history of the era. It’s a true page-turner. It’s a classic murder mystery. I’d recommend it to anyone.
Wayne Emerson, North Syracuse, NY
My goodness, where is Oliver Wiswell? How can any of your ten selections equal the greatest work of Kenneth Roberts? Who else could take the point of view of a Loyalist and still inspire the sympathy of a patriotic American? He gives character and dignity to the cardboard Tories of so many novels set in the Revolution. The depth and complexity of this turning point in history is revealed in all its heart-rending tragedy and glory. Yes, read all ten of these books, but please, read Oliver Wiswell. I’ve read it twice, and still I’ve learned more. Or should I say, understood more.
Armand Moreau, Torrance, CA
Really, does everything need to be reduced to a top ten list? I’m only grateful that Thomas Jefferson started with “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” and not “Top Ten Reasons for Declaring Independence!”
E. M. Emery, Dover, DE
I would like to start by congratulating the editors for so excellent a web site. This is a resource needed by teachers of American history and by the students as well. There’s nothing like a novel to bring the past to life. I hope they now go to work on other events in our nation’s history.
Having said that, I must express my dismay at a lack of a woman’s perspective. “Cast Two Shadows” by Ann Rinaidi and “Dawn’s Early Light” by Elswyth Thane, are the only selections that give voice to half the country’s population. How can this be right? Ask any man today whether his opinions and beliefs have not been heavily influenced by a mother, a wife, a sister, a respected female friend. The role of women in history did not start with the achievement of woman’s suffrage. Were the founding fathers all monks and bachelors? Certainly not! It might have been the men who carried the swords and muskets, but it was oftentimes a woman who put steel in his spine. For good and for ill. John Adams might not have been a John Adams without an Abigail, but Benedict Arnold might not have been a Benedict Arnold without a Peggy Shippen. This is the twenty-first century, boys. Isn’t it time that we recognized the obvious?
Carol Holder, Lovington, IA