Tuesday 10 March 2015

The Curse of the Buttons

The Curse of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker (Walker Books)
HC RRP $19.95
ISBN 9780763661380
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This third book in the Button family saga is a prequel to the Civil War. It’s a wonderful adventure story for the 8+ age group. Having enjoyed the themes, storyline and characters in The Luck of the Buttons, I was thrilled to get my hands on this one.

News comes with the steamboat about the onset of the War Between the States. The setting is Keokuk, Iowa 1861. We see Ike as an eleven-year-old boy whose brothers and other male relatives join the army. He is desolate at being left behind with all the women. From the moment of the men’s departure, he is consumed with the idea of finding a way to join them as a drummer boy.

Albirdie is Ike’s best friend. The daughter of the town’s pastor, she is level-headed, intelligent and supports her father’s view on the abolition of slavery. Although Iowa is a free state, aiding or harbouring slaves is a punishable offence.

The women consolidate their living arrangements with the hope of using Ike’s now empty home as a boarding house. Life is now a constant flurry of activity for all but Ike. He wants to be like his Uncle Palmer, the yard stick that the Button men measure themselves by. But even those on pedestals can have feet of clay.

He continues to scheme and dream of taking part in the war. He hatches a plan but needs help to execute it. He turns to two untrustworthy tricksters who know how to get things. They demand all but give nothing in return. Gypped and humiliated, Ike is unprepared for the change of plans life maps out for him.

Ike’s conscience is tested by his discovery of the runaway slave Mary, and her two sons. Drawn into a plan by Albirdie, her father, and Mr Jenkins to secret the slaves to a safe place means the boy is temporarily distracted from his obsession. But he’s fully aware that the bounty hunters searching for the runaways have no conscience or scruples when it comes to punishing people who get in the way of their reward. Here the women rally together again, to see justice and equality rule.

Fictional characters have been built into factual historical events pertaining to the American Civil War. This excellent novel with themes of friendship and loyalty, human equality and justice, has a strong sense of place and outstanding characters, particularly that of Albirdie. I saw more about her by what was left unsaid, than about Ike who was the more active, leading character.

The author’s note gives an overview of the history and research used to create this book. She encourages readers interested in that subject and era, to look further as she did, and discover more information on slaves, which is how she came to write this book.

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