The Marvelous Orange Tree
Betsy L. Howell, author
Twenty-year-old Robert Taylor is a private in Ulysses Grant’s Army of the Tennessee and one of thousands of soldiers involved in the 1863 campaign to take Vicksburg, Mississippi, from the Confederates. After the surrender, Robert and his comrades must cope with the boredom of daily life as well as continued fighting in and around the Mississippi countryside. By contrast, Jennie Edwards, an imaginative tomboy from the Illinois prairie, is learning conjuring tricks from the professional magician Owl as the Civil War begins. Inspired by Abraham Lincoln, she dreams of doing her part in the conflict that will soon sweep up her two older brothers. Her own experiences passing as a soldier take her deep into a masquerade from which she barely survives. Robert and Jennie’s lives intersect in scenes of shocking battles, camp life, and enduring friendships, in northern and southern landscapes. A powerful story of love and family ties, The Marvelous Orange Tree recreates the Civil War era and its aftermath, in a world where secrets are best kept when they remain in plain sight, just like the finest magic tricks.
Deception is bold and prominent in this heartfelt and often gritty Civil War saga, in which the lives of a Union Army private and a tomboy intersect. In 1863, Robert Taylor, 20, is part of Grant’s siege of the Confederate stronghold in Vicksburg, Miss.; he experiences both the carnage of battle and deep, enduring friendships forged under desperate conditions. Jennie Edwards is a boisterous teenager who prefers trousers to dresses, loves roughhousing with her two brothers, and is learning magic tricks from Owl, a magician, in her idyllic Illinois prairie home. After her brothers join the Union Army, and her mother goes away to get her depression treated, Jennie, disguised as a boy, becomes a soldier and ends up at the battle of Vicksburg. After she returns from the war, Jennie is plagued by wartime visions and prolonged blackouts; she has also fallen in love with Marie, her best friend, creating an “impossible” situation that eventually leads her to Chicago and, under the tutelage of Owl, performing magic tricks on stage. Howell cleverly weaves in Robert’s story and keeps the pages turning. Readers will be captivated in particular by the coming-of-age of Jennie, who makes this story a pleasure to read. (BookLife)