My spotlight book this week is I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe. Earlier this week, my wonderful guest reviewer Mary shared her thoughts on this beautiful novel. (Click here for Mary’s review.) Later on, I’ll be featuring a Q&A with the author. For today, I’m here to tell you why you NEED to read this book!
Here are my top five reasons why this may be the book for you:
1) Strong female character: Simply put, Rosetta Wakefield is one awesome woman. A young bride who decides that she will not sit home while the man she loves marches off to war, Rosetta takes her future into her own hands. Ignoring family disapproval and potential shame, not waiting for her husband’s agreement, Rosetta sets a course for herself and doesn’t look back. She joins the Union army, drills with the troops, pushes past overwhelming fear, and marches into battle — and simply won’t take no for an answer. Sure, there are fictional fantasy characters who use fancy martial arts, or stakes, or bows and arrows to face down bad guys. But Rosetta is a real-world heroine, based on historical records, who arms herself with her mind and her will to fight, steels herself with her love for her husband, and dares everything in order to achieve her own ends.
2) Bringing history to life: If you’re like me, you learned about the Civil War, about the battles of Bull Run and Antietam, in history class during middle school or high school. Maybe you had to learn the details, or write an essay on the strategic importance of certain battles. Maybe you had to memorize the dates or the names of the generals. Boring, right? Put all that aside, and read I Shall Be Near To You. I don’t think I’ve read another book that brings the battlefield’s sights, sounds, and smells to life quite so viscerally. As seen through Rosetta’s eyes, war truly is hell. It’s bloody and confusing and terrifying, consisting of little more than marching into almost certain death because that’s what the troops have been ordered to do. There’s no place to hide, no refuge, and no rhyme or reason to the chaos and horror.
3) An intense, passionate love story: Rosetta and Jeremiah are childhood sweethearts whose love is sincere, deep, and committed. Rosetta can’t be anywhere but by Jeremiah’s side, and despite his worries about what’s proper and safe for his wife, Jeremiah loves Rosetta too much to send her away. Their stolen moments are deeply emotional, deeply sexual, and absolutely pure in their mutual love and devotion.
4) Nitty-gritty, nuts-and-bolts details: What would enlisted troops eat in between battles? Where did the food come from? Or more essential questions: How could a woman hide in plain sight among an army of men? What about bathroom needs and other bodily functions? Ever notice how some of those “sweeping”, “epic” romances or historical novels gloss over the less-pleasant realities of day-to-day life? It’s all gowns and swords and drama… but not here. In I Shall Be Near To You, Rosetta’s adventure is believable because it is so deeply grounded in real life. Yes, there are obstacles. Yes, there are all sorts of things that Rosetta has to figure out in order to manage in a male environment without detection. The author gives us enough to make us feel just how much Rosetta has to overcome in order to achieve her goals — and just how much she has to sacrifice and put up with in order to stay by Jeremiah’s side.
5) Writing that’s just right: Rosetta is a young woman with some education but not a lot, raised on a farm and taught the essentials, but she’s never been a fine, sophisticated lady — and her speech is pitch-perfect in reflecting just who she is. Speaking plainly but not without her own sense of poetry, Rosetta is forthright to the point of almost impropriety, speaking out when nice young girls should demur to their men or their mothers-in-law or to practically anyone else. Rosetta speaks in colloquialisms, but it’s not overdone or cloying. Instead, her narration tells us just who she is simply by the words she uses and how she describes her life, her dreams, and the man she loves. It’s not fancy, but it consistently rings true, and Rosetta conveys such a depth of emotions in her plain words that it’s like being hit by a lightning bolt at times.
That’s five. Need more?
At just over 300 pages, I Shall Be Near To You tells a tightly crafted tale that wastes no energy and never goes astray. I walked away from this book with a greater understanding of love and loss, the terrors of warfare, and the simple joys of being with the right person and sharing a dream.
It’s beautiful. It’s powerful. Read this book.