When I came across the description for this book, it immediately grabbed my attention, and I was really looking forward to reading it. However upon finishing this book, I don’t feel that it really met all of my expectations.
One the one hand, I think thematically—like fellow Printz award recipient, Where Things Come Back
—it would lead to some good discussions for students, especially when linking the book’s themes with the ending. Will feelings change...will promises be kept...is it still possible to regain that sense of home, given the changes that have occurred, throughout all the time that has past? I think the book ultimately leads the reader to answer these questions.
On the other hand, I really believe this book feels like an author’s first novel. I don’t think it is very cohesive in terms of structure. Hinwood doesn’t seem to have a strict focus for this story. From reading the book’s description, Cam would probably seem like the book’s main focus. But that is not entirely true. Each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view, to provide further insights into the events occurring. I would think Hinwood does this as a means to bring the characters’ closer to the reader, as a means to understand them better. However, I think her use of this style has an opposite effect. I ultimately felt more distanced from these characters—their thoughts and feelings becoming more and more elusive as the story progressed. At times when I wanted to know what one of the characters was thinking or feeling, the story was being told from another’s perspective. As well, Hinwood is not consistent in the spacing or number of these chapter points-of-views. Some characters have more chapters than others (e.g. Cam vs. Gyaar), other characters who spoke at the beginning of the story, resurface again at the end (e.g. Pin). What surprised me most was when a seemingly major character at the start of this book, completely disappears with no further reference in the text. For this character, there’s no real sense of closure. I found this rather unfeeling and cold, given the internal conflict this character faced.
Setting the story in a fictional setting gives an author more freedom to decide how this world would look like and behave, rather than forcing an adherence to historical accuracy and maintenance of specific codes of behavior. However Hinwood does not really provide a strong background for this world she created. Ultimately, it is a blend of history and her own conception, but there are significant gaps in terms of the society she is trying to convey. For example, some societal codes she hints at, should have had a better explanation. At the beginning of the story we learn that Cam is betrothed to Graceful. Hinwood tells us that he had to pay a sort of dowry in order to wed her, and upon their wedding he would assume her
name. I found this an interesting concept. However, Hinwood never formally states that Cam does this because he is of a lower class standing. A young reader could easily miss this fact. Yet, the traditional betrothal-marriage arrangement of a father providing a dowry for his daughter still exists in this society as well.
Also, I don’t really feel it was necessary to set this story in the aftermath of a war. Cam’s internal conflict existed well before he went off to war. His problems are not post-traumatic in nature...they center around the idea of a sense of belonging—a feeling he lacked even when he was only a very young boy. Likewise the conflicts other characters face—both internal and external—don’t necessarily stem from the effects of war. What these characters experience could easily have resulted from any kind of circumstance or situation. If Hinwood truly focused on what could happen in the wake of a war, she would have had a much darker novel. Nevertheless, I feel it could have been something far more rewarding than the story she provides.