I deliberated for awhile, over what I would say on this book.
And now, that I’m writing this… I’m not completely sure what to say.
I mean, I certainly liked this book, I can see why it is a Newbery Honor book… but I’m just not sure why it has been banned.
Typically, the books on my banned list have some sort of sexual/drug/rebellion events that play out, but “My Brother Sam,” by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier, is actually pretty pious and devoid of any “inappropriateness.”
I am actually surprised that this raised controversy, considering that one of the central characters is a volunteer in the American Revolutionary Army.
To give you a play-by-play, the story starts out like this:
Tim Meeker is a boy growing up in colonial America. His parents own a tavern in Redding, which apparently is an actual city you can go and visit today. Tim idolizes his older brother Sam even when he enlists in Benedict Arnold’s Second Foot Guard.
The only problem is that Tim’s mom and dad, and entire town are Loyalist.
Despite enraging his parents and dropping out of college, Sam continues to march for the Revolutionary side.
At first, the war doesn’t really seem to be going on. Tim doesn’t see it, he only knows that some people are on one side and some people are on the other. Even he doesn’t know what side he is on.
Of course, eventually the war starts to affect their lives- starting with red coats swarming in the little town of Redding and the subsequent shooting of Revolutionary Scout.
Prices rise, food gets scarce, and Tim and his father are attacked by bandits when they leave to get supplies.
The climax happens rather dramatically. Tim’s father is taken, and there is no word about where he is. Then Revolutionaries take over Redding and set up camp.
Then one night when Sam sneaks off to visit his mother and Tim, he intervenes on cattle rustlers who then turn him in as the thief.
Although the cattle belong to Sam’s family, Tim and his mother are unable to persuade the general to spare Sam’s life; even a desperate rescue attempt fails.
Sam hangs on the gallows.
Later it is learned that Tim’s father has died in prison, but that is sort of lost in the sea of grief. It is learned that Tim is taught surveying, goes to college, and has a happy life while the new nation emerges. Despite all that he has lost, it is a rather optimistic ending. Saying what he is sure will be “a great history.”
I must say however, that this book had a very beautiful last paragraph. Most of the books I have read get to the end and have a few pages to go of wrapping things up, but the very last sentences somehow manage to capture what surely most readers feel after Sam has been torn from world:
“Perhaps on some other anniversary of the United States somebody will read this and see what the cost has been. Father said, ‘In war the dead pay the debts of living,’ and they have paid us well. But somehow, even fifty years later, I keep thinking that there might have been another way, beside war, to achieve the same end.”
I can’t help but think that the main reason someone would have thought to ban this is because of the ever so slight anti-war message. This book was published in 1974 which was right after the end of the Vietnam War. Of course, this book is still on the top banned books from 2000-2009.
So if you care to, you might see the parallels between any war ever died for by American soldiers (*or human beings in general). It’s the same story of freedom, democracy, etc, etc, but at the end of the battle, when the dead have paid for the living, the cost is always high.
I suppose what I’m getting at here, is that people don’t like to be reminded that even “honorable” causes have a terrible price… even our Revolutionary War, which god forbid you ever question anywhere in the United States.