Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery

Sheinkin, S. (2010). The notorious Benedict Arnold: a true story of adventure, heroism, & treachery. NY: Flash Point / Roaring Brook Press.
LS5385: YA Lit / Biography
UPDATE: WINNER 2012 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults  
Guess my assessment, written below, fall 2012, wasn't in agreement with the professionals.  See for yourself:

Hmmm. And hmmmm again.  I am very freshly finished with this book and have conflicting feelings about it.  For one, I wasn't really interested in the subject material; admittedly, I read this one because it was available at the library. Secondly, it just seemed poorly written - or perhaps too casually written.  The author uses a bunch of authentic material including quotes and references, but then follows-up with cheesy asides that just don't fit.  Also, when there wasn't evidence to back-up an assertion, the author would say something like "we really don't have any proof of that" or "we just don't know what happened."  The writing style bothered me as well.  Just as it felt like readers were flies on the wall, actually watching the story unfold, the author would insert something to break the spell, pulling the reader back to the present.  Additionally, there would be chapters that seemed completely unrelated to Benedict Arnold and his activities, particularly those about John Andre.  I assumed correctly that these would tie together at some point, but a younger reader might just be confused.

The book is definitely geared towards younger readers, especially in the basic writing style; however, it seems more of a boy read than a girl read.  Plenty of references are made to body parts being blown off by cannons and wolves eating the dead left on the battlefield.  Girls could have been drawn more into the story if a little more time would have been spent on the females in the story.  In particular, I was looking forward to seeing how Peggy Shippen Arnold, who had been courted by John Andre, would correspond with Andre and react when he came to the home she shared as wife of Benedict Arnold. There was  no mention, which could have been because they didn't encounter each other, but in keeping with the spirit of speculation the author showed in other parts of the book, it would have been a good addition.

I did learn a lot about Benedict Arnold and the American Revolution and the author did do a great job researching to be historically accurate. This is the most important aspect to me for a biography, and though I found the speculation distracting, I appreciated that the author stated it as such. The hand drawn maps sprinkled throughout the book were helpful, and for those who wanted to continue into studies about Benedict Arnold, there's a lengthy bibliography and index to help.

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