The Grand Illusion, Girl Soldier in the Civil War

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The Grand Illusion, by Carolyn Frooman Lipschutz, describes the journey of a young, outspoken teenage girl named Alexandra Germaine, who is rebelling against societal norms while living in the time of the Civil War. Her mother wants her to become a proper lady, instead of out hunting and doing “boyish things” all time, so she is sent by her parents from Palatine, Illinois, to her Grandpere (grandfather)’s plantation down south in Virginia. While down south, she sees the injustices of how black people were treated and has thoughts about joining the Union Army—but there was one problem—she was a girl, so she borrows a fellow friend’s clothes and disguises herself as a boy (as she had done so many times before), and watching from the bushes, sees the First Battle of Bull Run. She is caught when the battle is over and announces herself as a Union Soldier, who goes by the name “Alex.”

As Alex, she helps out the doctor tending to injured soldiers and gets promoted. At an important meeting, Alexandra “reveals” that Alex is actually her twin brother, and she convinces Allan Pinkerton to have her go behind enemy lines to spy for the Union as a black slave. At the same time, she has to maintain her identity as a male sergeant for her men and fight on the front lines. For how much longer could she really be able keep this all up?

I’ve always loved reading historical fiction, and I had an absolute blast reading this book. Last year, my class had a huge Civil War unit, so being able to recognize all the important figures I researched was so exciting. I remember making a poster and giving a presentation about Clara Barton and her life— the book even mentions how she had founded the first public school in a local town previous to her job as a nurse! And I wrote an informative brochure on Allan Pinkerton. After the Civil War, he tracked a series of robberies and was hired by railway express companies—of which Alex experienced with him going back to Virginia. Alexandra was even aided by Harriet Tubman on her way back from her secret spy mission, who was leading people to freedom following the Underground Railway, not to mention her close family friend relationship with actor John Wilkes Booth, eventually leading up to her witnessing the murder of the President. Even brief details, like the 54th all-black regiment, the mention of the southern female spies, the cigars and envelope containing important southern strategies discovered by a Union soldier on September 13, 1862—they were all there!

In addition to seeing the historical figures I learned about in school, the whole idea of Alexander dressing up as a male soldier and rebelling against gender roles was really inspiring, especially in a time and place where women were all expected to behave one way, and men were expected to behave another. In the Civil War, many women disguised as men to fight for their country, and it really shines a light on the bravery and the courage it took for them to take action and fight for what they believed was right, sometimes having to go against the approval of their own family as a women in addition to the thought of sacrificing their lives and showing the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is really interested in the Civil War, anyone who is looking to be inspired, or anyone who is just looking to enjoy a great book filled with action.

Reviewed By:

Author Caralyn Frooman Lipschutz
Star Count 5/5
Format eBook
Page Count 125 pages
Publisher iUniverse
Publish Date 2018-12-31
ISBN 9781532053757
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue Mar-19
Category Young Adult


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