I’ve been reading Ann Rinaldi’s historical fiction for over ten years. She has written countless novels about American history inserting a fictional character in a famous event, giving a fresh point of view. You have to respect the research that goes into doing this. That being said I have loved most of her work, some more then others. During this past library trip I realized there are a number novels I have yet to read, so I borrowed three. The Civil War isn’t my favorite topic in American history but since I love Ann Rinaldi, I’ll read whatever she writes, which happens to be a lot of Civil War books.
In The Letter Writer, 11 year old Harriet is asked by her half brother to become the official correspondent for his nearly blind mother. To further her writing skills she is also required to write letters to her Uncle Andrew in England, to whom she shares her views on family, politics, and slavery. When prominent slave Nat Turner comes for an extended stay on her family’s plantation to do some work Harriet finds herself charmed by the seemingly gentle preacher and decides to do him a favor by tracing a map of southern Virginia. He assures her that it’s so he can preach to people in nearby farms. Well if you know anything about Nat Turner then you are right to be suspicious. On August 22, 1831 Turner and his followers went on a murderous rampage and killed 55-65 white men, women and children in their homes. Rinaldi spares nothing in her gory account of the events of the night and attempts to unearth the motives of Turner, as even today historians are unclear on how the kind, genial preacher turned into a killer that summer night.
Rinadli had a good idea but her book fell short to me. I felt that parts of it were underdeveloped and could have used more time spent on Harriet’s life on the plantation and her relationship with Nat Turner. Before you know it, the rebellion strikes and violence is all over the pages. The ending also kind of has a cheese factor that the reader could have done without. What I did like was her Author’s Note because it explained why she wrote things the way she did and demonstrated her immense knowledge on the subject. It was exciting to her how calculated her story was and how she tried not to inflict her opinion of Nat Turner into the novel. Unfortunately this was the best part of her writing for me. If you’re a history fan, definitely read Ann Rinaldi, but save this one for later.