Frank Thompson wasn't your ordinary Civil War soldier. For starters, Frank was extraordinarily versatile, serving as a nurse, mail carrier and a spy. By all accounts, Frank was unusually brave. And while Frank was slight of build, with cheeks as smooth as a girl's, the same could be said of many underage boys who enlisted to help fight for their country.
But Frank was no underage boy. Frank's real name was Sarah Emma Edmonds, a young woman who had been living as a man for three years before enlisting in the Army.
"A Soldier's Secret: The Incredibly True Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero" (Amulet Books, 2012) by Marissa Moss is an unflinching account of the life of a Civil War soldier — one who must hide her true identity.
Sarah grows up on a farm in New Brunswick, Canada, skilled at hunting and riding a horse. When her abusive father arranges for her to marry an older man when Sarah is 16, she cuts off her hair, dresses in her brother's clothing and runs away from home. She gets a job as Frank Thompson that allows her to travel, selling books door to door — and finds that she's very good at it.
But when President Lincoln calls for volunteers to fight for the Union, she is among the first to enlist.
As Frank, she helps amputate limbs, carries out the wishes of dying soldiers, slips into enemy camps disguised as a slave and a peddler woman and delivers letters and messages to the troops. But Sarah also has to grapple with being a woman in a man's army — and finds herself falling in love with another soldier.
Moss' meticulous research comes to life in her graphic descriptions of the brutality of war: "Wildflowers dot the fields with yellows, blues, and purples, while birds chirp in the trees as if all is right in the world. But all around me I see horror after horror, dead men, broken men, men crying over the bodies of brothers, fathers, sons, and friends."
Older teen and adult readers who like "A Soldier's Secret" also might want to read "The Secrets of Mary Bowser" by Lois Leveen (William Morrow, 2012), which is based on the true story of an escaped slave who poses as a slave in the Confederate White House to spy on President Jefferson Davis.
As a special bonus, Moss has written a picture book about Edmonds for younger readers: "Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero" (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011).
Sara Latta of Champaign has a master of fine arts degree in creative writing and is the author of 14 books for children and young adults. You can read more of her reviews and learn about her books at http://www.saralatta.com.