The Teen Reader

Your source for reviews and ratings on every type of YA fiction.

Only Call Us Faithful

Posted by Rachel on July 4, 2009

Author: Marie Jakober

Genre: Historical fiction

Reading Level: Intermediate

Rating: PG for war themes

Summary: “Richmond, Virginia, is the heart of the Confederacy, and for those whose hearts are still with the Union in 1861, it is a trying home. Liza Van Lew has long been an outsider in Richmond. She never married, and at her father’s death she gave all of her family slaves their freedom. Her neighbors and friends have begun to believe that she might be losing her mind. But the Rebels don’t trust her, and with good reason. Behind a mask of mental frailty and innocence, she has secretly organized and is operating a hugely successful spy ring out of Richmond. Some in the Confederate Army have their suspicions, though they can’t ever seem to catch her in the act.”

Rachel’s Review: At first I was going to read this for a history report, but it ended up not fitting the exact specifications and requirements and blahblahblah, so I set it aside. After the report was finished, however, I picked this book back up because the plot seemed so intriguing (plus it had to be ten times better than the book I ended up doing the report on).  When I was about halfway through reading this book, I watched The Prestige with my family, and I ended up drawing some parallels (because I’m cool like that). In The Prestige, Borden’s whole life is part of his act, and as a magician, he lays everything on the line for the security of his secrets and his tricks. In Only Call Us Faithful, Liza Van Lew’s whole life is a secret as well, an act, a charade put on so she can get away with helping the Union while in the deep south. She protects her secrets, her tricks, to stay alive. Neato, right?

The book is written so that it cuts between the past, what was happening during the war at the time, and the present (ish), when Liza is a ghost looking back on it all retrospectively. It’s intriguing that the novel was based on true events (not the ghost bits, but the war bits and the spy bits). I found this “other look at the South” interesting because of all of its various insights into the ways of life (the way women were treated back then, the way slaves were treated, how Union prisoners were held, and more). Plus the book has multiple jabs at Scarlett O’Hara (bit of an ‘lol’ there).

Once the war was over, the book didn’t just immediately end, which I liked. It showed the aftermath a bit, how people moved on and how some people weren’t able to deal. It was rather eye-opening because you don’t often think about what happens after the storybook “happy-ending-yay-we-won-the-war” type of thing. Altogether a good book.

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