Cover image for Evvy's Civil War
Evvy's Civil War
Publication Information:
New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons, c2002.
Physical Description:
209 p.
In Virginia in 1860, on the verge of the Civil War, fourteen-year-old Evvy chafes at the restrictions that her society places on both women and slaves.


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On her fourteenth birthday in June of 1861, spunky Evelyn Chamberlyn finds herself stuffed into a corset, a dress with hoops and a hairstyle so ornate she calls it the Edifice. It is time for her to be introduced to society-no more climbing fences and jumping into streams. She is expected to be a lady now. But Evvy has an agenda of her own, questions of her own, and soon finds answers of her own too. She wants to prove that a woman can do everything a man can, and still be a true woman. But in order to find out all she needs to know, and keep her family together as the war rages around them, she must uncover her family's secrets, and ultimately make impossible choices. Evvy's fascinating story of honor, love and a little sneakiness is based on the real diaries of Civil War-era women, whose legacy became the next generation of feminists, the suffragettes. More than that, she is an independent-minded heroine whose thoughts and ideas shed a new light on what it meant to be southern and female during the Civil War.

Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7-10-Evvy Chamberlyn, the eldest of six sisters in the 1860s, is not a typical Southern girl. She is exceptionally well educated, with a love for learning and teaching that pleases her father, head of a Virginia boys' academy. Evvy also has a strong sense of social justice, like her mother's Quaker kin. Not only does she believe that women are men's equals, but she also runs a secret-and illegal-school for slaves. To Evvy, the conventions of being a "Southern Lady" seem confining, especially after she turns 14 and must put her hair up in elaborate styles, endure tight corsets, and wear dainty gowns. Then the Civil War comes, and concerns about coiffures and fashion are eclipsed by horror and death. Evvy finds only too many opportunities to show how a lady can be as good as a man. She is tested most of all when she must face shocking family secrets and make a choice that will either save or ruin her family. This entertaining story is related in Evvy's compelling, individualistic voice, which reflects not only the conflicts of her historical period, but also internal questions common among adolescents in almost any time and place. Other characterizations are equally strong, particularly the Chamberlyn family slaves and Evvy's schoolmarm aunts. They balance the somewhat melodramatic denouement by portraying believable people coping with incredible situations.-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Horn Book Review

In antebellum Virginia, EvvyÆs fourteenth birthday means she must become a lady, but this spirited eldest of six daughters resents the trappings. Over the next four years, the family boarding school, Quaker relatives, family secrets, the Underground Railroad, and the war itself allow her feminist tendencies to flourish. Many characters represent multiple issues--possibly too many of both--but the narrative is tight. Bib. From HORN BOOK Fall 2002, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Less about the Civil War and more about the plight of slaves and the societal constraints placed on women, this is an eventful family saga. On her 14th birthday, Evvy, the oldest of five sisters, must begin the life of a woman. She learns that she will be stifled by more than her corset. Evvy's family owns a profitable plantation that includes a reputable academy for boys and a smaller school for girls. As the probability of war increases, the precarious balance of running the plantation is upset by the death of Evvy's youngest sister, leaving their mother almost senseless with grief. Meanwhile, Evvy uncovers the secrets of both her family's involvement in the Underground Railroad and that to keep the plantation, her father must sire a son. When the war begins and her father goes off to fight, Evvy takes on the massive burden of running both the house and school. She also finds herself forced to make a desperate (and astonishing) decision to save all that she loves and values. The plot is bulging with issues but bolstered by intriguing little details about daily life, from how a woman hid perspiration to the making of soap. In her debut, Brenaman, drawing on some of her own family history and thorough research, writes an insightful story full of surprises. She palpably illustrates the confined life of women, bound by law and cultural norms to her father and husband when her only assets are her charms and if she's lucky, like Evvy, her cunning. (afterword, sources) (Fiction. 10-14)

Booklist Review

Gr. 6-8. On her fourteenth birthday, Evvy exchanges the freedom of childhood for the constraints of a corset, a crinoline, and hairpins. More alarming, she must take her place in a society (Virginia in the 1860s) that opposes the education of women and the emancipation of slaves. Evvy is heartened by the arrival of her beloved Quaker cousins Atha and Sophie from Philadelphia, who serve as confidants and role models, but she soon finds that even these «goddesses» live complicated lives. When her father joins the Confederate army and her pregnant mother turns inward after the death by fire of her sixth daughter, Evvy must take charge of the household. This brisk, first-person narrative will sweep readers along as they discover the intertwined stories of Evvy, her friends, and her relations (including the family slaves). A family tree is included to help readers keep the names and relationships straight. The story borrows some elements from fiction of another age--a bodice ripped, the timely discovery of papers hidden years before, and babies switched at birth--but there's nothing formulaic about Brenaman's approach to her material. More complex and better researched than most Civil War fiction for young people, the novel has strong characterizations, an involving story, and timeless reflections on a woman's need to find her place in life. Carolyn Phelan.